Shades of Shadora

The Grey Lady of Xaar and the White Lion of the Dawn

The followers of Artol finished the last remaining remnants of the horde that Dreymoor had assembled and the party headed through the piles of bodies towards the temple. They came upon an initiate helping a limping Edderick to the temple. “What happened, Edderick?” asked Trish.

Edderick turned wearily towards Trish, “I saw you and Simon dispatch Dreymoor! Well done! I was injured fighting with the vampire battlemaster. He dominated one of my initiates and had him run me through with his sword. My armor turned the blade enough to keep me from being killed, and I taught the vampire the folly of subverting Artol’s chosen! I’ll be right as rain as soon as I can get to a healer, though”.

Trish helped the initiate get Edderick to the healer, and after many reassurances as to Edderick’s health, she finally went to the hall where a feast was already in progress. Kabuto, Roku, and Simon were already eating, having been seen to by the healers themselves. Trish sat at the table with them and used her dagger to cut the leg from a dish that appeared to be some sort of bird that she didn’t recognize and began eating. Just as she finished with the leg, a commotion began at the head table, and she could see a healthy Edderick stand up on the head table. “Attention, attention!” he cried.

The entire room became silent. Satisfied that he had everyone’s attention, and pausing for just a little longer than necessary for dramatic effect, he said loudly, “I have an announcement. On the morrow, at dawn, Lady Trish will undergo her Runemaster Trials!”

A cheer went up from the crowd and those nearby clapped Trish on the shoulders as she gaped at Edderick. Trish shook many hands in the next few minutes and answered many congratulations until she finally had the chance to move close enough to talk to Edderick. “Ah, Trish, many congratulations!” he said.

“I’m not sure that I’m ready for a Runemaster Trial, Edderick,” she said.

“Well, it is a bit unorthodox, and we would normally want you to have some more, ah…formal schooling, but I’ve spoken to Darius, and we both feel that if you can bring the victory to the temple that you and your companions have brought us, while killing a Journeyman lich, no less, then we can certainly…ah…temporarily waive some of the requirements and let you go through the testing process,” he said with a grin, “I’d go and get some rest, if I were you, before the trials”.

Trish found a corner of the temple, removed her armor, laid out her bedroll and was asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow. She woke to a gentle shaking on her shoulder by Zelnos, one of the initiates that had survived from their adventures together with Edderick in the Mines of Tessen’s Folly. “Lady Trish, the trials will be soon, you should make haste”.

She stood and stretched. “Thank you, Zelnos, I will be there as soon as I can don my armor”.

Within minutes, a fully armored Trish walked into the feasting hall, where Edderick and the rest of the members of the Artol cult were waiting for her. They led her to a practice area, where there were three zombies tied to stakes. She entered the area and Edderick said, “This will be the test of fighting”.

The ropes holding the zombies were cut and they rushed Trish, but her blades were out faster than the crowd could follow and the zombies fell, one after another, their state of undeath ended forever. The crowd cheered, and Edderick announced, “The test of fighting has been passed!”

For the next test, a horse was brought out for Trish to attack from. She was to charge on horseback down a list with a training dummy at the end. She mounted the horse clumsily, because it had been years since she’d been on horseback. She readied herself, then spurred the horse forward, swung mightily at the dummy at the end of the list, missing it completely and almost unseating herself in the process. Shaking her head, she dismounted, and Edderick intoned, “The test of horsemanship has been failed”.

The next test was of marksmanship, but she failed that one as well as the tests for finding hidden initiates and identifying the undead. “No problem, Trish,” said Edderick as they set up the next test. You will have to pass both of the next tests, but they should be no problem for you. We understand that not all people can be proficient at all of the tasks”.

The next test was for throwing, and she sent three daggers tumbling end over end into the bullseye, with barely any space between the blades. “The test of throwing has been passed,” cried Edderick with a smile.

For the final test, Trish was placed in the middle of the practice circle, and three spirits were summoned for her to prove her prowess at spirit combat. As the ghosts closed in on her, she knelt and cast a quick spell. Obsidian and Keller’s Razor shimmered with Artol’s Blade and the crowd murmured its approval. Quick as a striking snake, the swords danced out three times as she stood, and each time it did, one of the spirits was banished back to the Halls of Silence. “The test of spirit combat has been passed,” cried Edderick, and the crowd roared its approval.

Edderick came down from the stands with Darius and they led Trish to secret door. Stopping outside it, Darius turned to Trish and said, “You have done well with the battle yesterday, but it is obvious that you can still use some work on your skills. You have passed the minimum number of trials to be brought before Artol, but before you go, I must caution you. You have been touched by the hand of Chaos, and it may be that Artol will not grant you Runelord status. It is in his hands now, but you should know before you go in”.

Trish nodded, and with that, Darius pressed a hidden switch and part of the wall fell away to reveal the hidden door leading to the skull sanctum of Xaar. As they entered, Trish noticed that the entire corridor, from the floor she walked on, to the ceiling above was covered with skulls and bones of fallen initiates of Artol. At the end of the hallway was a chamber with an altar consisting of an anvil that held a black sword, hilt upward. Edderick and Darius knelt at the end of the hallway, and Trish stepped forward, laid her swords on the anvil and knelt in front of the altar. The sword stuck into the altar transformed into the form of Artol, who stepped forward to where Trish knelt. A deep, gravelly voice spoke, “You have done well, my daughter. You have been true to your faith, and you have done great things in my name. Chaos has touched you, but you have overcome its taint”.

He reached out and laid his gauntleted hand on Trish’s bowed head, “I remove this taint from your body, but leave the white streak it caused to give you the means to remember what Chaos is capable of”.

An additional surge of power came through Trish, and she felt a link to Artol that wouldn’t be severed, even in death. Artol turned to the swords on the altar, “These were excellent swords for an initiate, but as a Runelord, I believe you will need something better”.

Beams of darkness left his hands and burst around the swords. He bid Trish to stand, and when she did, he picked up one sword, looked it over and said, “Oblivion, serve your mistress well!”

He then slid Oblivion into its scabbard, picked up the second sword, and said, “Ah, Keller’s Razor… No, no longer Keller’s Razor, you are now Trish’s Razor! Serve your mistress well!”

Artol slid Trish’s Razor into its scabbard and said, “Trish, your place in the Halls of Silence is ready for you when you have completed my work on the disc. Continue to represent me well”.

With a burst of darkness, Artol was gone.

Darius and Edderick stood, and Trish followed them out of the room to the feasting hall. On the main table, a series of large blankets hid what lay on the table. Edderick went to one edge, and said, “When someone is made a Runelord, it is traditional for the cult to give gifts to the one so chosen”

He uncovered the first gift, a set of ring mail that caught the firelight and glittered from within, “This ring mail was made by dwarven craftsmen out of a single diamond. It was worn by a general of Xaar, and now will be worn by a Rune Lady of Artol”.

He removed the blanket from the next item and lifted up a grey cape. The cape was emblazoned with grey silhouette of woman in a dress holding 2 crossed swords over her head. Three white skulls float outside the resulting “X” “This cape, along with a banner and pennant with this heraldry will signify our newest Rune Lady; you will be known from now on as Trish, the Grey Lady of Xaar. The cape has special powers to amplify your presence and help you in combat, may they serve you well. The skull clasp is also a true stone, which is charged with turn undead, consecrate, sharp sword and shield of Artol”.

There was cheering from the people in the hall as Edderick stepped down from the table and walked over to Trish, “And this is from me. I know you can’t read, but perhaps this will be helpful to you”.

He handed her a book titled “Z is for zombie”, which was a well-known children’s picture book primer for teaching undead lore to the younglings of the cult. Trish smiled as she accepted the book, placing it in her pack to look at later. “Follow me, Lady Trish,” said Edderick.

Trish followed him outside where a jet black warhorse stood pawing the ground impatiently as Talacir, the other survivor of Tessen’s Folly stood holding him. “His name is Balbereth, and he is directly descended from the ancient line of warhorses of Xaar,” said Edderick, “and he is yours”.

Edderick led Trish back inside where the crowd had begun to disperse. Simon came forward and spoke with Edderick. “We could sure use you and your priests to assist with removing the Lazuri from the Fire Temple, Edderick”.

Edderick shook his head sadly, “While we would be happy to help you, thanks to your efforts and the death of the lich Dreymoor, we now have a chance to cleanse these crypts of their Chaos taint once and for all. I have made arrangements for Talacir and Zelnos to accompany on the next stages of your journey, and when you are ready to attack the fire temple, we will rally to your banner”.

“Great,” said Simon, “only I don’t have a banner, so that’s going to be problematic”.

“Oh, is that so?” asked Edderick, “Then I guess you won’t need this, then”

He reached under the blankets that had held the gifts from the temple to Trish, and pulled out a battle standard consisting of a white field, with a red sun and a white rearing lion. “You are henceforth known as the White Lion of Dawn to the followers of Artol, Simon. This is your banner, and we will rally to it when you have need of us”.

A war council was convened, and it was agreed that the party’s best hope would be to travel to the Sentinel Swamp and seek out Rory Storm to rally the scouts of Mistvoice to the cause. “Be careful of the Plains of Mistvoice, wayfarer,” said Darius, “seek high ground at night. The mist that comes from those old battlefields hold naught but Chaos and madness”.

A few days later, the party was ready to leave the city of Xaar to seek Rory and his scouts. Trish was astride Balbereth and each of the other members of the party had their own horses. The priests had given them supplies for the journey, and the dwarven smiths had been able to alter Trish’s old armor to fit Kabuto.

In the afternoon of the day, they spotted movement coreward of their position and took cover. Leaving the horses in the charge of the initiates, the rest of the party moved forward and saw minotaurs hunting a small herd of deer. Their path would bring them near the party’s hiding spot, so they decided to ambush them when they got closer. As they waited, the wind shifted, and one of the horses whinnied in fear at the smell of minotaur. The group of beast-men stopped and began to look near where the party was hidden. Simon drew Inferno’s Edge and tried to go invisible, but the spell failed. The minotaurs saw Simon, and charged across the field. One pulled a horn to his lips and blew on it. The earth shook, and a number of cyclopes rose from the ground. The charging bull men threw javelins as they rushed up, with one of the javelins catching Simon a glancing blow. Trish wounded both the minotaurs that rushed her, and as they spun on her, she killed one and knocked the other down. Roku rushed out of his hiding spot, and attacked the minotaur that had attacked Simon, but his sword slid off the horn of the beast. Simon cut the distracted minotaur down with Inferno’s Edge, then teleported to and wounded the minotaur who summoned the cyclopes. Simon killed the minotaur, but as he spun to face the cyclopes, one threw a rock that missed by a great distance, and the other fired a lightning bolt, striking Simon, and wounding him.

Kabuto threw three axes at the cyclops, hitting it, but not noticeably damaging it. The cyclops attacked Kabuto as one of its brethren called upon their dark gods and caused dirt and gravel to erupt from beneath where Trish, Roku, and Kabuto were standing. Kabuto was wounded and Roku stunned by the debris, but Trish’s new armor stopped it from touching her. One of the remaining minotaurs rushed Roku, swinging his axe in a large arc. Roku dodged out of the way at the last minute and the axe bit deeply into the flesh of a nearby cyclops, which roared with pain. Roku spun his bolas, but the weights on the end spun out of control, mashing his fingers and causing him to drop them. He drew his sword, and killed the minotaur.

Trish wounded the minotaur that had attacked her, pushing him backwards with a brutal flurry of blows. She pressed her attack and slashed him across his exposed midsection, and the minotaur began to bleed profusely. A cyclops popped out of the ground next to Trish, and she spun, bringing Oblivion down through the one eyed creature’s skull, killing it instantly. Continuing her spin, she turned back on the minotaur who had lunged at her exposed back, and ran her blade through his ribcage, with the end of the sword cutting through his collarbone and impaling his skull. She withdrew her sword and the beast man fell dead at her feet.

Roku threw a bola at the cyclops nearest him, tangling him up and dropping him to the ground. He swung his sword and caused fire to erupt from his circlet, but neither attack hit as the cyclops struggled against the bola. Kabuto moved up and killed the cyclops on the ground, as lightning crackled though the air at Simon. The bolt struck the ground nearby with a smell of ozone, but Simon didn’t have time to wonder at the near miss as he ducked under the tree trunk the creature swung at him. Simon rolled to his feet from his dodge in time to see Trish kill the final assailant.

Trish pulled out a healing potion to cure Kabuto’s wound as Simon had his wounds tended by Telpurr. They conducted a quick search, finding two grey potions and about 200 silver talons. Having taken a brief rest, they travelled the rest of the day, finding a hillock to set up camp on for the evening. As the sun went down, a mist began to rise, and everyone began to hear voices muttering just low enough to be heard without being able to hear what was actually being said. Zelnos stood and wandered to the edge of the hill and tendrils of the mist reached out for him. The party had to restrain him from going over the edge of the hill into the mist. “They’re calling to me, can’t you hear them?” he screamed.

As dawn broke, the voices and the mist faded away. The party travelled that day without incident, but late in the day, they heard shouts in the distance. Drawing up their horses, the party saw a herd of centaurs charging at them! Simon had Talacir unfurl his banner and called to them, “Hail centaurs of the plain, what news?”

The lead centaur shouted, “Run, you fool, run!”

Now, easily visible above the running centaurs, the party could see the forms of griffins chasing the centaurs. The horses began to buck, throwing Simon and Roku. Trish got off her horse, and directed the initates to take the horses to the nearby hill, because it was beginning to get dark. Simon teleported to the back of the lead griffin, and held on for dear life. Roku shot a beam from his wand at Simon, who seemed to move a little quicker than normal. When it felt the weight on its back, the griffin Simon was on began to spin and climb higher into the sky.

Roku whispered into the shadows, “We could use some help here!”

Kabuto used his sling against the new lead griffon, hitting it, then threw three axes, hitting two more griffons, who all turned away and headed back the way they had come from. From spunward, a group of riders came in and engaged the griffins. The ground began to mist over as the sun started to sink under the horizon.

Roku threw his bolas at one of the griffins, tangling it in the creature’s wings. It plummeted to the ground near him, and he rushed up to kill it with his sword while it was stunned.

Simon had Telpurr attempt to possess the griffin he was riding and finally the creature’s flight levelled out as Telpurr took over its mind. He flew the griffin to the hill where everyone who was able were gathering. As he drew closer, the riders, not realizing he was on the beast, opened fire, killing it. Simon teleported to the hill and watched as one of the centaurs slowed, then put his hands to his ears and screamed. He spun and ran off into the darkness and rapidly gathering darkness. The last of the surviving men and centaurs made it to the hill and everyone gathered together.

The lead centaur came to Simon, “I am Anoosh, thank you for your assistance; we would have all been killed but for your assistance. Who am I addressing?”

Simon said, “I am Simon, the White Lion of Dawn, and this is Trish, the Grey Lady of Xaar. Why were the griffins chasing you?”

Anoosh grinned sheepishly and brought a large egg from his pouch, “These. We were on a quest for griffin eggs. It is a coming of age ritual for us. My friends here are Voski and Siran”.

One of the riders came over and said, “Are you Simon?”

Simon said, “I am”.

“I am Abel,” said the rider, “One of the scouts of the plains send to look for you by Rory. Looks like we showed up just in time to be of assistance”.

“I’d say so,” said Simon, “Where is Rory?”

“He is in Sentinel Swamp,” said Abel. “We can take you to him, but Arrin has been taken by the goblins of Glynn. They are torturing him for his secrets. Rory will be able to tell you more I’m sure, but we must make haste as soon as the sun rises over this accursed land”.

After another restless night, the sun came up and burned the mist off again. Anoosh came to Simon and handed him a black eagle feather. “This is the symbol of our blood debt to you for saving us from the griffins,” he said, “Your friend, Storm Crow, knows where our tribe may be found. When you are in need of our assistance, have someone deliver this token to our tribe, and we will answer your call. They will recognize the sign you carry”.

Anoosh turned and with a wild yell, the centaurs galloped off into the dawn. A short time later, the party followed the scouts into the swamp. About midday they arrived at Rory’s camp, and dismounted. Rory and Mother Taesa came out to the entrance of the camp. “Greetings Simon, welcome to our camp,” said Rory.

Rory led the party to the middle of the camp and had scouts take care of their horses. “The situation here is grim, Simon. Arrin has been taken by goblins after being ambushed on patrol. He stayed behind to delay the goblins while the patrol escaped,” said Rory.

“What secrets does Arrin hold that they are trying to get from him?” asked Simon.

Rory looked grim. “When Glynn fell, Arrin led the refugees into the mist and got them through with no injuries or losses. He is being tortured for the secrets of travelling in the mist. With that secret, the goblins could expand their dominion much further than the day’s travel they are held to now. King Baylor is holding him,” said Rory.

Simon said, “Baylor? That name is familiar to me. We broke up a circle of sorcerers with a Prince Baylor…”

“That’s the one,” exclaimed Rory, “He is king now, having killed his father upon his return. He brought with him an ice queen sorceress with a scar on her cheek.”

“I definitely remember her,” said Simon, “I gave her the scar!”

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The Catacombs of Xaar, Part 6, Out of the Catacombs

The minutes ticked away endlessly as they waited for the fallen initiates to return. The stillness was broken by the initiates talking to each other as they approached the hidden door. “Did you know that Dreymoor told me he was a Journeyman before he became a lich?” said one of the initiates.

“I don’t care where he gets his power from, as long as we get our promised immortality,” said another, as the hidden door slid open.

The party waited until the first two initiates had entered, when Simon struck like a coiled snake, snatching Karl from his feet and slamming him into the wall behind him. Unfortunately, Simon slammed him a little too hard, and the sound of bones breaking filled the silence caused by his attack. Trish stepped forward, and with swift slaps of the flat of her blades rendered the remaining two traitors unconscious. “What is happening,” came the voice of Jurian from behind her, “Did you catch them, initiate?”

Trish sheathed her swords and reached out to the floating sword and grabbed its handle. “As she looked at the incapacitated initiates, Jurian screamed, “Oathbreakers”, and the sword lunged forward to impale Peter.

Trish struggled to regain control of the blade. “Jurian, we have questions that need answering, we can deal with them later!”

The blade ceased trying to impale the last initiate, and Trish moved it back and released it to float behind her as Simon finished tying Vince up. When Vince regained consciousness, the questioning began. “Who had the keys?” asked Simon.

Vince replied, “I…I..I have them, they’re in my pocket.”

Simon grabbed the keys, and Trish moved closer. “When is the attacked planned?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” replied Vince, visibly paling as he realized the blood on Trish’s armor belonged to his friends. “We were told to move them out into the ruins and prepare for the raid, but I don’t know when they plan on releasing them.”

“When and where do you contact Dreymoor?”

“We don’t. He finds us, he has homing circles all over the lower levels,” replied Vince, visibly shaking.

“Are there homing circles on this level?” asked Simon.

“No,” came the sullen reply.

Trish asked sternly, “What became of Jurian’s head?”

Vince looked as if she had struck him, “We gave it to Father Vargas, I don’t know what he did with it, though”.

Simon checked his compass, “Vargas is still above us, I’d guess he’s in the ruins”.

Simon gagged Vince with a scrap of cloth from one of the corpses. “You’ll be happy to take us to where you hung out with your buddies, won’t you?”

Vince nodded vigorously with tears in his eyes. “I’ll take him outside,” said Roku, “The less he knows about our plans, the better”.

Simon and Trish began to discuss their strategy as Roku guided the former initiate outside the hidden door. “I’m going to remove your gag,” said Roku, “you need to be quiet though, do you understand?”

Vince nodded.

“Where is the room that you normally wait in?” Roku asked.

“Just up the path from here, two lefts, then the first right, and you’ll come to another hidden door,” replied Vince.

“Good. I’m giving you a second chance, because everyone deserves one,” said the Fel with a fanged smile as he untied Vince, “Get out of here, and don’t ever let me see you again.”

Vince rubbed his wrists, staring at the Fel as if he thought he was toying with him like a cat with a mouse, then he turned and ran into the darkness of the sewers. Roku gathered the rope in his one hand, then with a small chuckle returned to the secret room. Trish and Simon looked up at his entry. “The last one escaped. He incanted some spell under his breath, then he was free and I couldn’t catch him,” Roku lied.

Kabuto signed, “How will we find the lair, then?”

Roku said, “Before he cast his spell, he was quite talkative. I know the way.”

Minutes later, the party stood in front of the door of the room where the trio of initiates had spent their time between tasks. Trish opened the door and walked into the room, which was full of supplies. A table with an abandoned card game stood in the middle of the room, and there was a pile of documents to one side of the table. Simon came up and looked through the papers, finding two of note. One was older, and read:

Lord Dreymoor,

I beseech you to rise from your long slumber and awaken the sleeping hordes in crypts of great Xaar once more.
Build me an army to bind the Artol priests to their temple. Send the restless dead to the surface to harass and distract the death priests. For if they were to join the fight with Broad Shoulders, we may lose our grip on the Flame Temple at Mistvoice.

My man Vargas will be in contact with you shortly to coordinate our efforts and provide future guidance.

I realize that you may be set upon by terrible hunger after such a long sleep. Accept these messengers as the first of many hearty feasts to regain your strength.
Towards a world engulfed by flame,
Lord General Volmog,
High Commander of the Burning Horde

The second message contained instructions for the initiates to launch a feint in the Rimward district while Father Vargas and Dreymoor exit the crypts coreward, leading a huge Chaos horde. This horde will contain dozens of bone lords destined to swell Volmog’s ranks at the fire temple.

While Simon examined the letters, Trish moved to the door coreward of the one they had entered. She opened the door, and could see a shrine in the back of the room with candles flickering all around. She could see a small pyramid of skulls placed on the altar. “Sinooth,” she said between clenched teeth. “Initiate, let me see with your eyes,” said the voice of Jurian.

Trish took the handle of the sword and looked at the altar, “By the black horse of Artol,” exclaimed Jurian, “You are correct, initiate. It is indeed a shrine to Sinooth”.

Trish moved closer to the shrine, but the sword exerted pressure against her to keep her from moving forward. “Wait initiate,” said the voice, which had turned fatherly, “You don’t want to attack this without protection”.

As Jurian cast a shielding spell on Trish, the rest of the party went back to the card room and turned the table over to take cover from anything that might happen with the shrine when it was destroyed. When the spell was completed, Trish slammed Jurian’s sword through the shrine. Energy began pulsing around the room, and one spell hit Trish full in the face, but it bounced off the shielding from the spell Jurian had cast. As the altar crumbled and fell in on itself, three ghosts began to form in the room. Trish released Jurian’s sword and drew her two runeblades while casting Artol’s Blade. The ghosts fully formed, and one reached out to touch Trish, but she stepped back, and Oblivion cut through the ghost sending it back to where it had been summoned from. Trish then executed a slash that killed a second ghost, while Jurian’s sword skewered the third.

Roku, who had moved to the door when the magic had died down, saw the last of the ghosts dissipate. “Hmph,” he said, “Never mind, I guess you didn’t need my help”.

Kabuto signed, “Well, considering our current plight, there will be more chances.”

As Trish went to leave the room, she saw that one of the barrels had been broken by the magic. She knelt down and looked at the fluid coming out of it, and recognized it as blood. She opened the lid of the barrel, and saw that it had been full of blood. There were Chaos runes inscribed all around the inside, and at the bottom of the barrel, sat Jurian’s head, also covered in Chaos runes. “By Artol, you’ve found my head,” said Jurian, and the sword clattered to the ground, as his spirit was freed.

Trish brought the head and the sword into the card room and conducted a ritual to Artol to ensure that Jurian would be accepted to the Halls of Silence. She then emptied a burlap sack of vegetables and placed the head within. Kabuto exited the room as the rest of the party got ready to follow, and he noticed there was fresh grass lying on the ground near his feet. He looked around and saw a series of handholds leading up from where he was standing. He climbed up and halfway up the wall, hidden from casual observation, he saw that rungs led the rest of the way up. At the top of the rungs, he could see light coming through the outline of a trapdoor. He threw the trapdoor open and began to whistle for the others to come join him.

A short time later, the party stood once more on the surface of the disc, in the grey light of a cold, gloomy afternoon with a soft rain falling from darkened skies. Around the party is a massive, soaring, ruined city. They got an unsettling feeling as they spotted dark shapes moving in ruined windows and doorways from the corner of their eyes. When they looked, they always found nothing. Crumbling statues of dwarven lords and ladies adorned cracked alcoves of ruined buildings of grey granite and milky white marble. The craftsmanship was unparalleled and the detailed statue faces conveyed a people with a stern and grim purpose. Many of the statues were of great warriors, no doubt the famous chaos fighters of lost Xaar. These are the same faces, twisted and warped, that the party has been seeing on the bone lords called forth by the lich Dreymoor. “By Artol, I will avenge you, fighters of Xaar,” Trish cursed under her breath.

Simon looked around himself and said, “I thought that I had seen everything when I saw Emancia, but this place, even in ruins, is more majestic by far!”

The party walked down what was once a grand avenue admiring the sights when suddenly they found themselves surrounded by stern, black garbed men and women that rose like shades from the rubble. Rock steady crossbowmen appeared on the roof tops and sighted the party down the length of their bolts. A tall, grim man wearing a grey cape clasped with a silver chain in the form of Truth, Death and Darkness runes, drew a shining scimitar and points it in your direction. “Know that you are but moments from death strangers and only the truth will spare your lives. What business do you have in the ruins of Xaar?”

Trish stepped forward, “I know that sword! Edderick, it’s me, Trish!”

Edderick looked closely at Trish, “By the gates of the Halls of Silence, it is! Trish, how did you and your companions wind up in the crypts of Xaar?”

“It’s a long story, Edderick, possibly better told next to a warm fire and with a full belly,” replied Trish.

“Of course, of course,” said Edderick, turning to one of the initiates on his left, “Zepherus, run back to the temple and advise them that we will be bringing guests to dine with us this afternoon!”

The initiate took off at a run, and Edderick led the party in the same direction at a slower pace. The other priests fell into step beside the party, and it was then that they realized that a number of them were dwarves. A short time later, the party was brought to a brooding structure of grey and black stone, with a huge statue of a dwarven Artol, his sword poised to strike. Columns surrounded the statue, carved with bas relief depiction of epic dwarven battle scenes. The party was ferried inside, then downstairs, where they came to a hall where the fires had been stoked in preparation of making a meal. As they were led before a group of three dwarves and a human woman, Kabuto signed to Roku, “Oh great, more of Trish’s blade first, death and glory brethren”.

Edderick went to his place at the head table, and began introductions. “I give you Darius the Fatal, our high priest”.

A dour looking dwarf nodded at the party. “Thord the Stoic, our Rune Priest and skills trainer, Ragnar the Righteous, our Rune Lord and weapons master, and finally, Catlin the Stern, our archivist and master of the lists. The empty chair you see was once filled by War Captain Jurian, whose loss is greatly felt these past few months,” finished Edderick.

Kabuto signed to Roku surreptitiously, “Thord the Uninteresting, Rarnar the Uppity, Darius the extra blood thirsty, and Catlin the has the power and position to treat others like garbage”.

Darius looked at the party and said, “Tell your tale, and perhaps you can give a good reason why an initiate of Artol is keeping company with such a…motley group of associates, to include a fire worshipper of all things!”

Trish began telling the tale of how they came to be in the catacombs of Xaar, but before she had gotten far, Catlin’s eyes widened, and she pointed at Trish, “She holds the sword of Jurian, have you found him?”

“After a manner of speaking, we did. It would appear that he was murdered by three failed initiates,” said Trish.

“She carries the sword, perhaps she killed him as a way to trick us,” said Catlin.

Edderick said, “I have fought alongside Trish and she is worthy of your attention my brothers and sisters”.

Ragnar the righteous waved at the party, “I say cast them out brother. They would distract us from our path. Trish may have once walked our path and impressed swordpriest Edderick, but she travels now with the cruel and bloodthirsty Fel, the secretive and manipulative Xern and a light dancer. A wayfarer, trickster and godless sorcerer are her boon companions. As well I say they are tomb robbers; see how they adorn themselves in the sacred relics of our ancestors? The judge of the dead would wisely rule that they are grave sinners and should be cast out. All praise to Artol”.

Kabuto signed, “Sure, cast us out, lose out on what we saw in the crypts, like zombies being aligned against you or the giant severed hands of gods!”

“We are all sinners and all of us redeemed in death. The rulings say the truth will emerge. Let her speak and then we may judge her story,” said Edderick.

Trish began her story again, and when she got to the part where they found Jurian’s head, she pulled it from the burlap bag it had been contained in. The mood of the room instantly changed. “This…” began Darius, “this is why your words have twisted in our hearts. This is why we have been being thwarted in our efforts at every turn. Catlin, please, take care of what is left of our brother’s remains. The Chaos magic will no longer cloud our judgment”.

Catlin took the head and spoke enchantments over it, and the mood of the room lightened again. Darius said, “Trish, I ask that you begin your tale once more so that we may listen to it with our ears and minds unclouded with Chaos magic.”

Trish began telling the tale for the third time, and Kabuto signed to Roku, “Were this a collection of Guha followers, there’d be much more bathing, drinking, and maybe after some sort of bawdy fun, then we’d talk about the damnable crypts”.

“Well, we’re in it now,” said Roku quietly to Kabuto.

Trish finished her story of the group’s travels, and when she finished, Darius said, “Impressive, you have seen Dreymoor? Few have lived to tell that tale. We have heard you out, please bathe and eat, I will consider your story, and then I will make my ruling”.

After the meal, the death priests were gathered once more. Darius looked around him and said, “What do you have to say, my faithful advisors. I would hear your counsel”.

Thord the Stoic stood and said, “Why should we risk the entire temple on their word alone? They are strangers here, and she is corrupt. You can see the hand of Chaos has touched this one of you view her aura”.

The assembled crowd gasped at this revelation, and Thord continued, “Darius, I beseech you my brother, do not let their words distract us from our duty to the steward of the halls of Silence and his temple. All praise to Artol”.

“My glory is but a shadow though I sell my life dearly,” intoned the priests.

Ragnar the Righteous slammed his gauntleted hand down on the table, “Leave the temple unguarded to be devoured by the gaping maw of the crypts while we are away on a fool’s errand is most likely what will happen! We can’t afford to take the chance!”
Catlin the Stern stood and addressed Darius, “I am keeper of the archives here. The scrolls say we may not abandon our post. However, that does not prohibit us walking outside the temple gates. She is giving us the upper hand for the first time in recent months”.

Edderick said, “In the rulings of the keeper of souls it is said that the truth is our true duty brothers. Your words are wise and your caution just, but I would deal our enemy the most grievous blow that we may, now that we have information to act upon”.

After his advisors took their seats, Darius looked around the room. He looked at his advisors at the table to his right and left hands, then looked out at the remnants of the forces that had come to put down the undead in Xaar which had been plaguing the region. He saw the tired faces, the worn equipment and the tattered remnants of the martial finery they had brought with them to the crypts. With a sigh, he stood and addressed the group. “I agree that caution is advisable when on a military campaign, but I also know that when you have a chance to gain the upper hand on your enemy, it is advisable to take it. I know which way the wind blows within my own mind, but I ask this before I speak my truth – Do we have the wherewithal to take the enemy? I look around and see that we are not so well equipped as we were when we began our task. Many of our brethren lie in their own tombs and will not leave Xaar once we banish the hordes of undead. Do we have the strength to tear them down?”

Roku said, “We may be able to help you there,” and he handed Trish the book and piece of vellum they had found in the crypts.

Trish brought the items forward, “The book has locations of caches of dwarven weapons, my lord,” she said.

She laid the book in front of Darius, then unrolled the vellum, to reveal that it showed the locations of their enemies within Xaar. Catlin looked over the book, “There are at least two caches here that we haven’t seen before”.

Darius’ eyes glinted in the firelight. Catlin, take a party to the caches and see what we can bring back to equip our men with. Edderick, gather a scouting party and let’s check that this map isn’t bringing us false news. I will give my decision once we have that information”.

Kabuto signed to Roku, “You know, were it not for the gate failure, I’d not have been pulled into any of this you all are not bad people”.

Roku laughed and clapped the Xern on the back, “Ah, same here friend, funny the tricks fate plays on us all”.

A few hours brought everyone back to the meeting hall. Kabuto had found some chain mail armor that the blacksmiths were able to slightly modify to cover his carapace, and he and Roku had equipped themselves from the one weapons cache that had not been looted. The rank and file of the death priests were considerably better equipped, with fine dwarven weapons and armor. Darius stood and called for silence, “Good fortune has smiled on us, and Artol’s hand has guided us. I believe that the signs from above are very clear, so we will ride at dawn to destroy the enemy! My glory is but a shadow though I sell my life dearly!”

“My glory is but a shadow though I sell my life dearly!” cried the death priests.

Dawn broke cold and clear that morning, and the priests gathered to ride on their enemies, while Prospero, Walac, and Ellisandra stayed to guard the temple. Trish and Simon rode in the front with Edderick and his fellows, while Roku and Kabuto were more to the middle of the formation. The war party turned the corner, and were confronted with the undead army and time stood still for a brief time as the enemies glared at each other across the field. Darius signaled for the attack to begin; a warhorn sounded, and with a cry to Artol, the death priests surged across the field towards the undead creatures that lurched out of the crypts in endless supply. Trish and Simon were soon engaged with a group of skeletons and a mummy that was casting spells to bolster the rotting army. Trish killed two of the skeletons as a third fired an arrow into her armor, and Simon wounded the mummy which pelted him with streaking bolts of darkness.

The battle surged around them and soon Trish attacked some nearby bone lords while Simon pushed his way to his target, the lich Dreymoor. Trish fended off the bone lords, barely injuring one of them as Simon danced through the battle towards the lich. “I have you now,” said Dreymoor with a laugh, which Simon answered with his own spinning blades and a kick, wounding the lich for the first time in centuries.

Roku found a potion that one of the undead had dropped on the battlefield, and stooped to pick it up as Kabuto threw three axes at a group of nearby zombies. Two of his axes were true, killing one zombie and wounding another, but the third zombie got close enough to stun Kabuto with a glancing blow to the head. One of the death priests killed the zombie before it could follow up, and Kabuto and Roku suddenly found themselves on the front lines near Trish and Simon. A mummy shuffled towards Kabuto, who cut it down with an axe, as Roku sent a gout of flame from his circlet to destroy two nearby ghouls.

Three ghouls rushed from a hidden area in the ruins towards Trish, who cut them all down in a crimson rain as they rushed in. Roku threw a bolo against a mummy and then cut it to pieces while it was prone on the ground. Kabuto feinted to the left and spun to the right, wounding the bone lord he was fighting, but the bone lord caught him with a lucky shot with one of its spinning swords, wounding Kabuto. Simon chased Dreymoor through the battle, as Telpurr cast true sword on his katana. He moved in as Dreymoor got caught in a slow moving knot of zombies, and with a series of swift cuts, Dreymoor’s circlet fell to the ground, and in the instant of his long overdue death, Simon saw Dreymoor as he was in life…A Journeyman.

With Dreymoor the lich dead, the magical energy that had brought many of the undead to life had fled and they dropped where they stood. The rest of the undead who were still mobile were no problem for the remaining death priests to mop up and finish off. When the army left the field, the undead had all been destroyed, and only one unit of death priests had been lost. The question remained however; where was Vargas?

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The Crypts of Xaar, Part 5, The Hydra and The Headless Ghost

Simon had Telpurr come out of the sword and heal his wounds once again as the rest of the party explored the noxious sewer system they found themselves within. Kabuto wandered away from the rest of the party and went around the corner. He tried to jump across the water separating him from the other side, and missed his footing, falling into the water with a loud splash. Thrashing around, he found his feet and stood to see a group of serpents’ heads looming over him. At the sound of Kabuto falling in the water, Roku and Trish turned to see a creature with multiple snakes’ heads coming out of a main body lunge at something out of their sight around the corner. Roku leapt across the water onto the platform nearest the beast. He cast his invisibility spell, but a gong went off in his head as the casting went wrong somehow. He dropped to his knees, holding his head in his hand, trying to ease the pain. Trish tried to follow Roku across, but her armor held her back, causing her to fall short of the other side. Spluttering and kicking, she surfaced and saw two crocodiles swimming through the briny water towards her. She climbed out of the water and stood in disbelief, because where there had been one beast before, there were now six.

Kabuto saw the six beasts appear from nowhere and closed his eyes, trying to disbelieve in the existence of the recent arrivals. He opened his eyes, and all of the beasts were still in front of him, and one of them struck out with its heads, striking Kabuto with two blunt blows, and one bite. He staggered under the force of the blows and the bite burned. Kabuto looked down and could see some of the black ichor dripping from the beast’s mouth had been injected into the teeth marks the bite left, the outer edges smoldering slightly as if they had been burned in a fire. At that moment, Trish came from his side, swinging wildly at the nearest beast. She connected solidly with the creature, which popped out of existence. Her next hit caught another beast at the base of its neck, and it spun on her with a roar as that head dropped into the water.

Roku stood up from the shock of his misfired spell, and saw two crocodiles climbing out of the sewer onto the platform. He rushed the first one, hitting it across the head with the flat of his blade, then stabbing the stunned animal through its brain. He then twisted away from the writhing body and thrust his sword into the gaping maw of the second crocodile, killing it. Leaving the two bodies to thrash on the platform, Roku tried to find an opening to assist Trish and Kabuto with their battle.

Kabuto flicked three axes, each at a different foe. One axe went wide, but two found their mark, the creatures that they hit flickering out of existence as soon as the axes spun through them. Another couple of spear thrusts, and once again, only one monstrosity stood before them. Trish hacked off another head, and noticed that the first head had begun to grow back; this time with two heads! A gout of flame burst beside Trish, and she turned to see Roku had positioned himself in a gap on the platform between her and Kabuto. The flame burst against the hide of the serpent creature and the newly formed heads hung limp, finally killed by the fire from Roku’s circlet. The monster struck at Trish a couple of more times, but her heavy armor turned aside the attacks. Kabuto danced around in front of the beast and tried to throw an axe at one of the remaining heads. The axe went wide and caromed off Trish’s armor. Trish then began spinning and leaping, her attacks taking three more of the creature’s heads off and breaking the jaw of a fourth. New heads began sprouting from the stumps of the severed heads, but another flame blast from Roku shriveled them before they could fully appear. He then rushed forward and cut the final head from the creature’s body and it sank back into the ooze of the sewer.

“Where did the shadow clones come from?” signed Kabuto, as he wearily sat down on the platform.

Roku shrugged and said, “These creatures of the deep have surprising powers. At least that, we can count on.”

Telpurr floated over to Kabuto and healed most of his wounds. “The wound with the poison and the poison itself are both beyond my power to heal. Only magic or time will heal those,” he said before he faded back into Simon’s sword.

“I’ll scout ahead,” said Roku, moving swiftly along the platforms on the side of the sewer. As he rounded the corner, he could hear a tapping noise on the other side of the wall. He could also hear a voice muttering angrily, “I can’t believe it, if I catch those guys, I’ll make them pay.”

Roku returned to the party and told them what he had heard. They moved up and now could hear the tapping and muttering as well. Kabuto, deciding to see what was around another corner, began to explore on his own as the rest of the party tried to determine where the sound was coming from. Trish, her helm off and ear pressed against the wall heard the voice say, “By Artol’s Black Blade! Where have those boys gotten off to, this is beyond a joke!”

Trish gasped and stood back from the wall, “He’s at least an initiate of Artol, none other would use his name so freely in a situation such as this. Perhaps he’s one of the brothers from the outpost here and we can find out more about where we actually are within the crypts!”

Trish slammed the pommel of her sword against the rock, but the voice on the other side kept tapping and muttering as if it hadn’t heard the clatter. Roku continued a little way up the corridor, but the further he got away, the fainter the tapping and the voice got. He came back and told Trish, “Keep trying to get his attention, I’ll check in the other direction and see what we come up with.”

Roku followed the wall around and found another grating, but the tapping and muttering was as loud as ever. He came back, got Simon, and between them, they forced another opening in the grating. Roku crept up the walkway next to the wall, and suddenly a flight of arrows rattled around him. “Skeletons!” he shouted as he retreated back to the grate, pulling arrows out of his clothes as he went.

Kabuto heard Roku’s call at about the same time the blood crows burst out of a side feed pipe at him. They swarmed around him, and he retreated towards the rest of the party swatting and stomping at the birds. Moments later, he drove the last of the crows off, and found himself back at the wall where the tapping was still continuing.

Trish rushed up the platform into the darkness, searching for the undead she knew to be there. Suddenly, in the light of her Journeyman candle, she saw a flash of bone on either side of her. She lashed out with her swords, and two skeletons clattered to the ground as an arrow zipped out of the darkness at her. Roku tried to catch up with Trish, but when it was obvious he wouldn’t be able to, he slid quietly into the water and used the sides of the sewer as cover from the arrows. Another fusillade of arrows came at Trish as she battled the skeletons, one lodging itself in the ribs of the skeleton in front of her, and the other hitting her in a gap in her armor, wounding her. Roku came out of the sewers on the opposite side of the water from where Trish was fighting and engaged the skeletons there. Kabuto came around the corner and a skeleton lunged at him. He stepped back, then reversed momentum, swinging an axe as he spun with deadly strength and accuracy, destroying the creature in front of him.

Trish destroyed the skeleton she was fighting and continued to press forward into the darkness looking for more foes. She came upon a rickety wooden bridge across the sewer and came up behind the two skeletons that Roku was fighting. As she killed the skeleton in front of her, Roku threw a bola at the skeleton in front of him, then destroyed it with his sword.

With the threat from the skeletons gone, Roku and Trish began to search the walls, trying to find where the tapping was coming from. “Here we are,” exclaimed Roku, tripping a hidden catch and unlatching a door that had been disguised to look like a piece of the wall.

A sword flew out of the darkness beyond the door, wielded by a ghostly image of a headless man. “Are you an undead creature?” asked the sword, “or are you the traitorous one who locked me in here?”

“I think this may be a death sword,” said Trish with amazement, “Sometimes, when a rune lord of Artol is betrayed or slain via Chaos magic, their spirit can inhabit their blade until vengeance is meted out for that betrayal.”

“So my friend, who took your head?” asked Roku.

The figure holding the sword straightened, as if standing at attention, “I am Lord Jurian, war captain of Xaar. I can sense an initiate nearby, though, identify yourself, initiate, who are you and where are you from!”

“I am Trish Saturnima, initiate from Summerford,” said Trish.

“How do I know you aren’t the foul ones that killed me and locked me away?” asked the sword.

Roku said, “Well, if you could see around you, you could see all of the undead we just killed.”

“Is that so?” asked the sword, “Initiate, take me up so that I can see through your eyes.”

Trish reached out and gripped the handle of the sword, and could feel another mind inside her head as the ghostly image of the rune lord disappeared. “Nice work, initiate,” said the mind in her head.

She felt her eyes drawn to the sword. “So, this is my death blade?” said the voice, “You must find my head and body, initiate. This is your quest!”

The party went into the area where the sword had been imprisoned, to look for clues, but it was simply full of rubbish. They established that the last memory the sword had was from less than a season ago, about 50 days, if they figured correctly. The initiates that he thought were responsible for his death were Vincent, Karl, and Peter. “Lazy reprobates the lot of them! Worthless to a man,” said the sword.

“I remember hearing them around and following them below ground. I was above ground when I was ambushed. I must have followed them underground until they trapped me here in the crypt,” said the sword.

Kabuto, standing at the doorway, could hear voices coming from deeper in the sewer. “You can’t be having second thoughts now Peter. We are talking about immortality! Dreymoor has sworn an oath!” said the first voice casually.

“I know Karl, but they are raising an army – what about our folks back home?” asked a second voice.

Kabuto picked up a piece of trash from the floor and threw it at Roku, who turned to face the Xern. “I can hear voices over here. Two men, speaking of service for Dreymoor to gain immortality,” signed Kabuto.

“Caution Trish,” said the sword, “Let’s see what they’re about”

The party crept closer to the voices, and soon was able to see a chain of zombies staggering out of a hidden door at the end of the hallway. There were two people visible, and it looked like they were herding sheep, rather than a horde of the undead. “Hey Vince, those arrogant priests would be wiping those condescending looks off their faces if they could see us now!” said one of the men.

“Don’t worry about that right now, Father Vargas wants these zombies in position before sunrise, he wants things set for the raid,” said the other person as he went along with the line of zombies.

After twenty to thirty zombies had exited the door, the last person followed the zombies down the hall. Trish and Roku followed them, while Kabuto checked out the room they had exited. Trish and Roku followed the train to a corner where they couldn’t go around without being seen, and heard the clanging of the grate as it locked behind the horde. They sat for a few minutes, and could hear voices returning down the corridor. Roku and Trish made their way back to the doorway, where Kabuto met them. “Boxes and stairwell to crypts,” he signed.

“They’re on their way back,” said Trish, “Let’s ambush them in the room, then even if we have to kill them, we have the keys to the place, and the surface can’t be far from here.”

As they settled down to wait for the men to return, Kabuto saw a glint from something sitting on top of one of the boxes. He picked it up, and saw that he was holding a pendant engraved with earth and stasis runes, as well as dwarven runes. Shrugging, he slid it over his head, vowing quietly to look more closely at it later.

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The Catacombs of Xaar, Part 4, The Riddle of the Statues

Trish didn’t waste time wondering about the location of the other two vampires were, instead moving to keep them from using their coffins. While Trish was doing the work of Artol, the rest of the party observed the room. There was a statue in the middle of the coffins, another dwarven fountain which had been desecrated by Chaos. The roof of the chamber was high, and dwarven murals filled the walls. Simon searched around the room, coming quickly to a grate that covered a shaft filled with darkness. He glanced down through the grating, but could not make out how deep the shaft might be or where it might lead. He recognized flakes of color on the grating as dried blood and as he wondered where the blood might have come from, he fancied he could hear a skittering sound coming from the darkened depths of the shaft. Roku and Kabuto watched Trish destroying the coffins, now working on the third coffin she had come to, working her way around the room clockwise. Kabuto’s antenna began to twitch as he smelled blood, and he noticed the brackish water in the fountain beginning to roil. Suddenly, tentacles erupted from the pool, grasping and swatting at everyone in the immediate area. One of the tentacles slid across Trish’s armor, causing her to cease her prayers over the coffin she was working on and draw her swords. Kabuto leapt backwards, and in a fluid motion, three of his arms sent axes flying at the tentacles, severing one of them, which landed on the ground, flopping like a gutted fish.

Kabuto moved backwards from the tentacles, and noticed three pieces of shadow detach themselves from the darkness of the stairwell and head towards him, even as the missing two vampires materialized on the landing and entered the room. The skittering noise from beneath the grating grew louder, and with the sounds of many beating wings, a flock of blood crows erupted from the grate, followed closely by a swarm of rats. Roku cast invisibility on himself, and moved away from the shadow figures on the stairwell, but inadvertently stepped in front of the river of rats swarming from the grating. The rats couldn’t see what they were bumping against, but bit against his armor ineffectually as he moved against the tide of the animals.

Simon activated one of his sunburst shuriken and threw it into one of the nearby columns. A burst of brilliant sunlight filled the room, and as the blood crows shrieked and shied away from the light, Simon casually tossed a dwarven grenade into their midst, dispersing them completely. Simon then joined Trish in fighting off the tentacles from the fountain, but stopped and moved to engage the large dark knight that appeared at the edge of the battle. The knight wore pitch black armor and wielded a greatsword with flames flickering up and down the blade. Simon attacked the creature, but his attack was countered by the knight who swung his blade at Simon so quickly he barely had time to duck. Simon then leapt backwards, grabbing one of the flailing tentacles as it went by and landed behind the knight. He then executed a flurry of kicks and spins with his blades that became almost like a wall around him, hitting rats, tentacles and the knight. Simon could hear a quiet voice speaking in his head, but shook it off just in time to duck beneath a swipe of the knight’s sword, causing the knight to chop a couple of the tentacles behind him in two. The black knight began to mumble and chant, and suddenly, five feral looking demons materialized in a puff of greasy, gray smoke.

Almost as soon as Simon left to battle the black knight, one of the tentacles slipped under Trish’s guard and wrapped around her waist, lifting her off the ground. Trish began trying to hack at the tentacle holding her, but it tightened its grip on her and she could feel her armor starting to dig into her skin. Roku appeared out of nothingness and hacked at the tentacle, slitting it lengthwise and causing a black ichor to leak from the cut. From where she was being held in the air, Trish could see a pool of darkness at the base of the tentacles, where they appeared to be entering the world. Batting away three other tentacles that tried to wrap themselves around her, Trish finally hit the one holding her with enough force to sever it, and dropped to the floor. As she stood up, Gilliam cast protection on her, and she engaged the tentacles once more.

Kabuto spun around, doing a weird dance of sorts, as he feinted and dodged this way and that so quickly that the shades and vampire couldn’t follow what he was doing. He interspersed thrown axes with his feints, and the humanoid creatures, not used to dealing with anything with more than two arms, were having difficulty getting close to him. A deftly thrown axe caught the vampire directly in the chest like a stake, and dropped him. Roku pointed his wand at Kabuto, and Kabuto could feel his speed increase as he ran forward and did a back flip off the wall to land in front of one of the shadows. As he landed, Kabuto saw a hell hound, which he recognized from stories as a Kushna come up the stairs. He threw an axe at it, hitting it square in the head and killing it. His next axe throw whipped through the air at the black knight and neatly took his head from his shoulders, causing the armor to drop empty to the floor and then deteriorate into a greasy looking smoke.

Simon began destroying all of the rats he could reach, causing the ones he couldn’t to split up and attempt to go back where they had come from. Suddenly, he heard the voice in his head again, and he felt his will to fight leave him as he lowered his swords.

A second Kushna breathed fire at Kabuto, and he flipped out of the way of the stream, which caught a lot of the rats which had been swarming around his legs and dispersing the rest. He then feinted at the shades and Kushna, taking a moment to throw another axe into the tentacles Trish was fighting. His axe hit the middle of the tentacles, and they withdrew into themselves and popped out of existence.

Roku was fighting the green demons that the knight had summoned, and managed to cut two of them down before a third got in under his guard and slashed him painfully across the ribs. He watched as Simon, glassy eyed and with his swords held low, began to walk out of the room. Suddenly, Simon shook himself and then his body glowed briefly as Telpurr cast a shielding spell on him. Telpurr then commanded a gnome forth from one of Simon’s rings, and as the earthen creature rose beneath the remaining vampire, Simon pushed another sunburst shuriken into a nearby pillar, and the sunlight streaming forth burned one of the shades completely away.

A voice suddenly burst forth in both Trish and Simon’s minds; it was Kabuto, “Shades on me here! Save my ass!!”

Trish rushed across the room, Obsidian cutting through the closest shade and Keller’s Razor slashing a second, killing them both. Roku’s wand hit Trish and she felt faster than she had since the battle began. As Trish, Kabuto, and Roku finished off the remaining demons, Kushna and rats, Simon walked casually over to the vampire, drawing a stake from his belt, as the gnome caused it to sink to its waist in the rock beneath its feet. With a grin, Simon spun and his katana took the vampire’s head from his shoulders, and a stake suddenly sprouted forth from his chest.

With the battle over, Telpurr instructed the gnome to destroy the fountain. As the giant beast pounded the fountain to rubble, the tentacles sprang forth and began drawing it into the void. The coffins, bodies and rubble were sucked into the void, and with a booming sound, there was nothing left in the middle of the room where the fountain used to be.

Kabuto began to retrieve his axes from around the room, and as he pulled the axe from the chest of the vampire, it turned to mist and began laughing as it seeped away through the cracks in the floor.

With the aftermath of the fight over, the party looked at the statues on the far side of the room. As they drew closer, Roku said, “Go ahead and check them out. I’m in no hurry; I’ve bled enough for now.”

As the others drew closer to the statues, Roku noticed that they were set up as an altar. “Hey, all of these guys have their hands out. We should find things appropriate to each element and set them up as an offering.”

After a little discussion, the party placed the vampire’s head in the hands of the Chaos statue, pieces of the gnome in the hands of the Stasis statue, rubble from the ceiling in the hands of the Earth statue, a bedroll in the hands of the Law statue, and a magical belt in the hands of the Magic statue. The runes above the statues began to glow, and the chest in front of the statues opened with a crack, and all of the offerings disappeared. Inside the chest was a pair of gloves, a book, a circlet, and a stone headed war hammer with runes inscribed on it. Kabuto took the war hammer, Roku took the gloves and book, and Simon took the circlet.

The party once again began the trek up the stairs, and Roku had the feeling that someone was watching him. They climbed the stairs for hours, passing many open tombs. Their seals are broken and they lay open like dark yawning maws. Without fail, a small horde of zombies or skeletons vomits forth as the party approached. The climb became an endless succession of skirmishes with mindless undead and after each, the party turned aside with a shudder as Trish pushed them upward on the stairs towards the surface, away from all this death. Only she seems unaffected by the grinding monotony of endless restless dead. The simple prayers she mutters are calming and the party guesses that she and her dark god may actually be protecting them from falling into despair. They were glad of her company.

On the brink of exhaustion, the party decided to sleep on a landing. They rested for a few hours, but did not sleep well as each of them were haunted by terrible dreams of an endless spiral staircase and a march that leads from life to undeath.

Eventually the stairs end in a cave-in that has sealed off the next level of the crypts while exposing an adjacent tunnel from which a moist foul air wafts in. The sound of gently running water can be heard and something large splashes into the brackish murk as the party stands at the collapsed entrance. It is pitch black in the tunnel so by the flickering torchlight, they see a glimpse of hewn tunnels with dark green water below and walkways and catwalks above. The air is musty, damp and stagnant and a green grey moss grows on the stone walls.

Simon used the compass, which showed that Vargas was now below them. Kabuto, noticing the direction the compass is pointing, signed, “We will run out of supplies before we finish that errand.”

Kabuto then moved to the edge of the canal and stuck in his spear. “About chest deep,” he signed.

Kabuto and Simon lightly jump across the gap to the other side of the canal. Roku attempts to follow, but misjudged his landing and fell backwards into the brackish water. As he stood, ghosts began to materialize from the water around him. Trish ran forward and dispelled two of the ghosts, and Simon dispelled the third before he could take possession of Roku. Roku scrambled out of the water and stood on the other side of the canal, dripping and muttering to himself.

The party began to explore the canals, finding gratings every so often that covered both the edges of the canal and the canal itself. All manner of foul smelling detritus was washed into the grating in the water. Trish tried to bend one of the gratings, but was unable to, stepping away for Simon to have a go. Simon bent the grating back with ease and stepped through the opening. About five feet away from the grating, a flight of arrows came rattling in around him. As he recovered from the shock of the arrows landing around him, another volley came in from the darkness. Simon cast a spell and became intangible, then he tied one of his sunburst shuriken to his head and activated it as a headlamp. Gilliam cast a protection spell on Trish and she rushed out to the first skeletal archer she could see and attacked it with Oblivion. Kabuto came through on the other side of the canal, his thrown axes taking out four skeletons at the same time. Simon attacked one of the skeletons around the side of Trish, but was unable to hit it due to the awkward angle.

Roku, trying to get a better angle to engage the skeletons, attempted to jump across the canal again, but fell into the dank, smelly water once more. There was a splash nearby and he saw the head of a giant eel cutting through the water towards him. He cast a shadowbolt at the creature, catching it full in its open maw.

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The Catacombs of Xaar, Part 3, The Bodyguards and The Stairwell

The party assembled amongst the strewn and scattered bodies of the ghouls they had killed earlier and tried to determine their next move. Trish said, “The compass shows Father Vargas above us, we should head up the stairs.”

“Frankly,” said Simon, “I plan on dropping the title ‘Father’ from Vargas. He’s about as holy as one of these ghouls. I’m also interested in what’s down these side corridors.”

With little further conversation, the party followed Simon’s lead and went to the door in the “crucifixion room”, as they had dubbed it. Simon checked the door, and found that the latch was on this side. He threw the latch and quietly eased the door open. Beyond the door was a corridor with a door on the right hand side and a turning on the left. “Here goes,” said Simon as he sprang forward.

With the agility of a Rune Lord of Bandar, Simon ran along the edge of the wall, touching down only at the end of the corridor where it made the turn. Dropping to the floor lightly, Simon’s ears heard the soft click of a trap being activated, and the floor began to fall away beneath him. Simon used his ring to teleport out of the pit below him to the edge of the pit. As he appeared on the tile, another click signaled yet another trap, and Simon leapt from the spot to start running the walls again as a giant slab of rock crashed to the floor behind him. He ran the walls deeper into the corridor, stopping only when he came to a closed portcullis. Dropping to the floor again, there was a click and a twang as six arrows zipped out of their hidden recesses towards him. Two lodged in his clothing, and the others stood quivering in the rock wall behind him. “At least they don’t sound like they’re resetting,” he muttered to himself, as he began running the walls to get back to the others and inform them of what he had found.

After explaining what he had found to the others, Kabuto stepped forward and signed, “We can use these lifeless undead to trigger the traps,” as he motioned toward the corpses scattered around them. Minutes later, the path behind them riddled with body parts of undead that had been mangled by various traps, the party stood in front of the door to a room with a fountain in it. The fountain looked as if it had been hewn from obsidian, and must have been lovely to see at one time. Now, however, small alcoves had been hacked into the sides of the fountain, and in each alcove, there was a shrunken head, their figures contorted in pain and anguish. The interior of the fountain was filled with a viscous grey green liquid that bubbled quietly. “This must be dedicated to the mad god Sinooth, Lord of Headhunters,” said Trish, “That liquid smells like embalming fluid!”

Trish looked closer at the pool and went back to the hallway to retrieve the leg bone of a ghoul. She tossed it casually into the pool, but nothing happened. Kabuto signed, “Looks like this wishing fountain has gone bad.”

Trish blessed each of the heads around the fountain, and as she did, the looks of pain eased, as the spirits were released to the Halls of Silence. She then prayed to Artol for guidance, but as the skulls decayed and turned to dust, she was no closer to a solution to destroying the fountain. She felt a light tap on her shoulder, and turning, she saw Kabuto. He signed, “I have an idea, you and the others wait outside far from the door.”

The party regrouped at the end of the hallway as Kabuto grabbed a torch and suddenly flung it into the room. Moving as fast as he could down the hallway, there was a bright flash, light, the sounds of unholy screaming and then silent darkness filled the room once more. Kabuto signed, “The magic of fire” and made a sound that might have been a chuckle. The party returned to the pool to find it empty and cracked. There was a tar like substance at the bottom, which Kabuto dipped one of his javelins in. “The remains of what lived in the pool,” he signed.

A few minutes more of throwing bodies down the hallway found the party at the portcullis that Simon had located earlier. As the others gathered to lift the portcullis, Roku looked down the hallway and could see that there was at least one doorway and the corridor went as far as the eye could see. Once the portcullis was lifted and secured, the party gathered around the doorway they had seen from the hallway. Simon read the earthrunes aloud, “Loyal Bodyguard, but I can’t make the other out, it seems like it might be a dwarven name.”

Simon checked the door, but it was locked, and he had Walac come up and check it. As they looked, Simon pointed at a trip wire, “The door is trapped, do you think you can deactivate it?”

Walac’s eyes glinted as he looked at the trap, “Well, I can give it a try, but you’ll have to hold me up, I can’t reach it.”

Simon lifted the Lir up to the trap and Walac began working on it. Walac always maintained later that “for being a rune lord, Simon sure is jittery. That’s what made me cut the wrong wire on that trap!”

A pit suddenly opened beneath them and Simon grabbed the Lir and the side of the pit at roughly the same time. Trish helped pull them up out of the hole, and Walac stepped onto the floor, giving himself a shake. The pit effectively closed the door off from being unlocked, so the group moved cautiously down the hall to the next doorway. This doorway also had a name along with “Loyal Bodyguard” on it, like the last one. Simon and Walac checked the door for traps, but neither of them could find anything. Simon held Walac up as he worked on the lock, and as the door opened, a blade spun out of a hidden panel, slashing across the corridor that would have been fatal for someone dwarf sized. Simon leapt straight up as the blade passed beneath his feet. Simon placed Walac on the ground with an angry look, but Walac just shrugged, “Door’s open. Anyone can miss a trap; they design ‘em so you can’t see ‘em, ya know.”

Simon entered the crypt, and as he did so noticed that there were tracks in the dust. Suddenly, the sound of a machine powering up drew his attention to a golem in the corner, whose eyes had suddenly begun to glow as steam poured out of the spout in its neck. Drawing his blades, Simon leapt forward and destroyed the golem before it could fully come online and attack. Trish came in and prayed over the tomb to ensure that its occupant couldn’t be converted to undead later as so many of the dwarven heroes had been. Simon said, “The runes on the crypt talk about the deeds of this bodyguard of the lords of Xaar. Also, when I entered the room, I noticed that there were tracks in the dust as if one of the golems had walked out the door.”

“Well, the golems that attacked us in the other room had to come from somewhere,” said Trish, “Maybe this is where they were before they were called.

The party went back out to the hallway and stopped at the next door to try their luck again. Kabuto went up the hallway to the corner, and saw a golem powering up just in front of what could become a very real dead end. Kabuto threw two axes at the golem, bouncing one off the head of the automaton, which seemed to reset its power up sequence. He then rushed the golem, and destroyed it before it could power on, taking the axe it held in its now lax hands. Kabuto came back to the rest of the party just in time to see Simon crawling out of yet another pit in front of the door. “Dead end that way,” he signed, as Simon entered the now open tomb.

Since he knew what he was looking for, Simon saw signs of another golem having walked out of the door. He heard the now familiar sounds of golems powering up, and jumped across the pit while shutting the door behind him. The sounds of the golems stopped once the door was shut.

“I’d like to check the other side as well to see if it mirrors this one,” said Simon.

The party went along this hallway, using the tried and true method of throwing ghoul bodies down the hall to set off the traps, and as the rest of the party moved on, Trish stepped into the room that contained the fountain they had passed when running from the lich. She looked at the orange liquid pouring from the statue which was a travesty of the original dwarven statuary, twisted now by the forces of Chaos. There were dozens of bowls of dust located around the fountain. She seemed to remember there was a tale about using dust in the creation of undead, but she couldn’t recall the details. She picked up one of the bowls of dust and studied it for a moment, then dumped it into the fountain. The dust spread out along the top of the liquid, which began to churn. Suddenly, a pseudopod whipped out of the fountain, barely missing Trish who stepped back from the edge, drawing her swords. A creature, seemingly made out of black ooze with bones and detritus rose from the pool, and began to slide out of it towards Trish.

The beast reared back and swung a rapidly forming pseudopod at Trish, hitting her but glancing off her armor, and then a wave of force smashed into Trish, flinging her like a doll to crash with a ringing sound, like a hammer on an anvil against the column of the stairway behind her. Trish stood and rushed past the creature to where Storm Crow stood with his torch in his hand and his mouth open in wonder. She grabbed the torch and flung it into the pool at the portion of the creature that was still under the liquid. The creature caught fire, and swiped at Trish again, catching her with another glancing blow, but ready this time, she withstood the wall of force as it came against her. Roku appeared in the doorway, having run down the hallway at the sound of Trish’s armor striking the wall. Taking in the scene in a moment, he cast a darkbolt at the creature, blowing bits off of it, and it sank slowly back into the brine.

Trish prayed over the dust to prevent it from being used to reanimate the dead, if that was indeed its purpose, then left the room with Storm Crow, Kabuto and Roku. They arrived where Simon was just closing the door on another bodyguard’s room. “It looks like this is a mirror of the other side,” he said, “It’s probably time to head up the stairs.”

The party went to the stairs and headed to the second landing. Trish said, “We should mark this area somehow. We were planning on coming here to clear out the place anyway, it might be useful to know where we’ve been when we come back.”

Simon looked at her and said, “What would you like us to do?”

“I don’t know,” said Trish, “you know I can’t read, but something to show we were here would be good.”

Simon grabbed a bit of charcoal from a burned out torch and drew the rune for “donkey” on the wall. “There you go,” he said, “That will be your rune.”

Trish looked pleased as the party headed up the stairs. After about an hour’s walk up the stair, with a wall on one side and a drop of unknown depth on the other, Roku said, “We should stop and take a rest to regain our strength. Who knows what is at the end of this stairway, and we should have as much of our strength available as possible.”

The party then camped on the stairs as best as possible. Roku dropped to sleep almost from the time he laid down and Trish and Storm Crow took the watch. About eight hours later, Kabuto woke from his sleep to a smell that he couldn’t place, but was irresistible. As he rose, he saw a statue that looked like a stone idol of a jester rise through the air in the center of the stairwell. It smiled at Kabuto and started juggling, and as it juggled, a light seemed to grow and emanate from within it. As Roku woke up, he saw Kabuto go to the edge of the stair and sign to the darkness, “What are you?”

Unseen and unheard by Roku, the statue said directly into Kabuto’s mind, “Let’s have some fun!”

Kabuto signed, “How so?”

The voice replied, “Come on, let’s play”

As Kabuto reached into his pack, Simon and Roku both heard a whispering noise, but couldn’t make out any words. “Can anyone else hear whispering?” asked Roku.

Kabuto pulled out three old leather juggling balls and began to juggle them, matching time with the statue. As he juggled, he noticed that his balls had appeared in the statue’s hands, and he was holding the ones the statue had been juggling. The idol then disappeared, leaving Kabuto holding the three juggling balls, one red, one yellow, and one green. All of them were humming and covered in Guha’s runes.

Simon heard a voice whisper, “So hungry”, and Roku heard another whisper, “I can smell your blood”. There was a popping sound and four creatures appeared, surrounding the party as a swarm of blood crows came swooping up from the stairwell beneath them. The creatures appeared to be dressed as simple peasants and workmen, with pale skin, large fangs and a greenish glow to their hands. Simon drew his weapons, and moments later the vampire by him was crumpled in a heap, dead. The vampire in front of Trish swiped at her, missing by inches. The one near Roku hit him dead on, and he felt cold fingers try to close around his very soul, then another hit swiped across his chest, and blood began to flow freely from the wounds the vampire’s raking claws had left. A vampire hit Kabuto, and the Xern chittered as some of his energy was siphoned out of his body by the attack.

Roku used his wand on Simon, who sped up slightly and seemed to be just slightly out of phase and ahead of the rest of the beings fighting on the stairs. He then scored a hit on the vampire that had attacked him, his sword drawing a gashing stripe across its chest to match the one he had received earlier. Simon’s blade flashed past Roku, and that vampire dropped to the ground, dead.

Storm Crow and Kabuto fought with the remaining vampire on the lower stairs, but the vampire seemed to anticipate all of the tricks the Xern attempted in order to break his defense. Roku and Simon joined the fray as the vampire scored another hit on Kabuto, and he reached into his pack to grab one of the juggling balls he had just received. He threw the ball at the vampire, who leered at him evilly when the ball bounced off his chest. When the ball hit the floor, it turned into a bubble that enveloped the vampire, as well as Storm Crow, Roku and Simon. Kabuto staggered back from the vampire, shaky because of the wounds he had received in the fight.

The blood crows swarmed around Trish, but she batted a few from the air with her swords, and the swarm moved off from where she and the vampire were standing. He took advantage of her distraction and swiped at her, wounding her and draining some of her soul as a horde of rats began to pour down the stairs. As the rats swarmed over her, biting her through the gaps in her armor, Trish called out, “Artol, consecrate this ground that I, your servant, make a stand on against these undead creatures!”

Light burst from Trish, and the vampire in front of her burst into flames and slammed against the wall. The burst covered the area where the bubble was located, but the vampire was unharmed. Trish heard laughter in her head, along with a voice saying, “That’s funny!”

Inside the bubble, Simon killed the vampire, then slashed at the ball which was decreasing in size at an ever faster rate. As his slashes bounced harmlessly off the wall of the shrinking sphere, he heard a voice in his head, “That’s funny!”

Kabuto stepped forward, and popped the sphere with his finger, and his old, leather juggling ball fell to the floor. He picked it up with a shrug and put it back in his pack. Trish took the time to lay the vampires to rest permanently with the rites of Artol, as Simon had Telpurr heal the injured. Kabuto’s injuries were so severe that Simon used a scroll of full body healing on him to bring him back to full health.

The party continued up the stairs, and arrived at a landing that led into a large room. The room had statues on the far end, and each statue had a rune, reading from right to left, magic, law, earth, stasis, and Chaos. There were six coffins in the middle of the room, surrounding a strange chaotic statue, and there were pillars arranged around the coffins in a hexagonal shape. As Trish looked around the room, she asked herself, “Where are the other two vampires?”

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The Catacombs of Xaar, Pt 2, The Crypt of the Dwarven Lord

This time, when the summoning circles pulsed, two golems appeared that had green armor rather than the golden or silver armor of the previous golems. They were noticeably larger than the previous golems as well. Trish was unable to ponder what this meant, as another golem stepped into the circle of golems around her and she swung Oblivion in a deadly arc, stopping the mechanical man in its tracks. As she regained her footing, the other golems attacked clumsily, and she parried them all, the arrival of the new golems pushed to the recesses of her mind as she fought for her life. Kabuto, a javelin in each of his hands and a sword in each of his hand/feet weaved a shield of steel and wood that protected him from the golem attacking him, but was unable to gain an advantage on the monstrosity. As Roku took the fight to the enemy, Trish saw something glint from underneath one of the fountains. “Roku,” she shouted above the clash of weapons, “There are coins underneath the fountains, perhaps we need to give an offering!”

Roku disengaged with the golem he was fighting and ran to the far end of the room. Dropping his sword, he scooped the golden coins from underneath the golden fountain and dropped them into the water, where they disappeared. Moments later, as the green golems stepped off of the circles, a new silver golem appeared, but no golden one did. A golem loomed in front of Roku, who rolled to the floor, coming up holding his sword, which speared into the turning gears on the creature’s midsection. One of the green golems had made it to Trish and joined the other golems in attacking her, their weapons ringing off her runesword and armor like a bell. The golem Kabuto had been fighting finally fell after his swords and spear thrusts had cut enough gashes in the tubes that sprayed black oil on the ground like blood. As the second green golem closed on him, Kabuto spun away from the attack and ran to where Keller’s Razor had fallen moments before, grabbing the runesword. He threw the weapon like a spear, where it clanged harmlessly off of one of the golems, but landed at Trish’s feet. Trish ducked beneath a swipe of the green golem’s sword and called a hasty thanks to the Xern as she returned to the battle.

Roku noticed a light coming from behind him and turned just in time to see a flaming skull fly into the room behind him. He dodged as the skull blew a cone of flame at him; the flames from his attack setting the golem behind Roku alight. Roku grabbed the coins from underneath the silver fountain, dropping them in quickly and retrieving his sword in one fluid motion. He then leapt over the second golem’s shoulder, causing it to pause and try to determine where he had gone. The flaming skull sent another burst at Roku, which he ducked under, but the statue behind him melted from the impact of the blast. He then sprang forward, spearing the skull through the eye socket and thrust it into the fountain, where a geyser of steam marked the passing of another Chaos creature from the disc of Shadora.

Kabuto took a glancing blow that split his carapace from the golem he was fighting and he took a step back, clacking his mandibles in pain. He then feinted to the right, snapping back as the golem went after him, then danced around the second golem near him. He then retreated to the far corner of the room, out of reach of the golems. He reached into his pack, drawing out the hand axes he had gained from the ghouls, and began to use them as projectiles, throwing them at the golems with deadly accuracy, but not enough force to penetrate their heavy armor. He saw success, however, when one of the axes sliced through one of the golem’s tubing, causing it to begin to leak oil.

Trish killed one of the golems attacking her, and sliced the fingers off of one of the green golem’s hands. With her next attack, she cut the entire hand off with one sword while ramming her other one into the midsection of a second golem, which toppled over, lifeless. Roku cast a shadow bolt at the green golem Kabuto had been fighting with, but the bolt of darkness burst against the chest of the automaton without doing any damage as Kabuto continued to launch axes at it. The green golem on Trish swung down with its empty hand, smashing against her skull, and stunning her momentarily. Kabuto threw the last of his axes at the golem, and headed to the fountains as he saw another golden golem pop into existence. He reached under the fountains and realized there were no more coins. He concentrated, and cast mindspeech on Roku, and spoke directly into his mind, “No more shinies under the fountain to stop the golems!”.

Roku grabbed the pouch attached to his belt and flung it to the Xern. While his guard was down, the golem he was fighting took advantage of Roku only having one arm, and connected solidly with his sword. Roku yowled as he heard his ribs break and blood trickled from the corner of his mouth. He raised his sword again, and defended himself as Simon, bleeding himself from multiple wounds, staggered over and killed the golem that had broken him. Roku limped heavily to the fountains, and began to feed coins from his pouch into each of them as Kabuto rejoined the fray. Sprinting to the nearest golem, Kabuto stabbed at it with each of his spears, then clicked his mandibles gleefully as the sling in his right hand/foot sent a stone whizzing into the golem’s eye, causing the golem to slump sideways, and steam quit issuing forth from it as it died.

Trish killed one of the final golems of the group that had surrounded her earlier, as Storm Crow and Simon finished off another one. Kabuto maneuvered to the side of the final golem, the green one that Trish had disfigured by removing its fingers and then its hand, sending a sling stone flying unerringly into the face of the mechanical man, killing it as the stone penetrated the armor surrounding its head.

With the fighting over, Roku continued feeding coins into the fountains as the party searched the room. Kabuto removed the a long sword, piece of parchment and several round canisters that Simon identified as dwarven grenades from the father’s tomb. From the son’s tomb, he found a silver ring nestled in amongst a bunch of toys. Kabuto moved towards the woman’s tomb, and Trish said, “Do not touch the woman’s tomb, it is under the protection of Artol, and I will not have it defiled”. Trish gathered what was left of the mummies, and arranged them on their tombs, performing the rites of Artol over their bodies. When she was done, the ghost of a dwarven general came to stand in front of her, and was joined quickly by the specter of his young son. The dwarven warrior snapped to attention, presented a sharp salute, which Trish returned, and then he turned and walked with his son, fading from sight as they moved away.

Kabuto, wary of Trish’s warning, examined the mirror he had noticed earlier, and could still see the treasure heaped about it. He noticed that the mirror could be moved and began to move it to and fro to see if there was a way to access the treasure within. Finally, in a moment of anger, he spun the mirror to face the floor, and the treasure from within the mirror spilled across the floor. He picked up a large number of coins, a hat, a cloak, a scroll, and a belt, as well as a couple of potions. Satisfied that the chamber was clear, the party retreated to look over the items that they had recovered while Simon summoned Telpurr to heal their wounds.

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The Catacombs of Xaar, Part 1

Trish noticed the xern following the group through the corridors of the complex, and as Simon rushed down the hall of traps with Roku and Storm Crow, she held back and hid, waiting for the creature to pass. She had heard of xern, of course, all of the inhabitants of Shadora knew of them, but this was the first one she had ever seen before. As the creature passed, holding a javelin in two of his four arms (although to be honest, one pair of arms had appendages on the end that could pass for either hands or feet), Trish stepped from behind a column into the flickering torchlight and slapped the creature on its backside with the flat of her blade. It was a move designed both to get the xern’s attention, as well as show that she meant no real harm. The xern spun with uncanny speed; javelins raised to defend itself, but lowered them when he (for it was a male xern) saw it was Trish and not one of the undead that infested the area he had found himself in. His hand/feet came up and began to sign furiously in Slavetongue. “I am Kabuto, and was traveling on the same homing platform. I find myself here in this place, and seek only to leave”.

“Fair enough,” said Trish, “follow me, then, and we’ll see what we can do. I hope you can use those javelins, though, because I believe we’ll need them before we’re free of this foul trap.”

With that, Trish set off at a run down the hallway that Simon and the others had gone down moments earlier, to the sounds of clicking gears as the sprung traps worked to reset themselves. Emerging at the end of the hallway, Trish came to a halt as she entered the room where the ghouls were feasting on the entrails of dwarves that had been hung from columns between statues of a dwarven king and queen. “By Artol’s black horse,” she swore, “We’re in the crypts of Xaar!”

She saw Simon and Roku run up stairs to her right, where a four armed bone lord lurched along the top of the stairs. Quickly deciding that the odds would be better if they could limit the number of undead that could attack them at the same time, she yelled, “To the stairs, we’ll make our stand there!”

By luck or chance, just as she yelled, ghouls swarmed around the column in front of her. She slashed one of the ghouls in half with Obsidian as it approached, but another leapt to take its place with alarming speed. The ghoul nearest to Storm Crow howled with anger, and within moments, Trish, Storm Crow, and Kabuto were fighting for their lives, possibly their very souls, all thoughts of getting to the stairs gone in an instant.

Simon whirled like a dervish at the top of the stairs, obliterating the skeleton that stood at the top, as he felt the cold of the approaching bone lord. Roku could feel the cold radiating from the bone lord and he also felt a wave of fatigue wash over him as he mounted the stairs behind Simon. As Simon deflected the attacks of the bone lord, a flaming skull skittered around the corner, and launched a cone of fire down the stairs at him and Roku. With the grace of a dancer, Simon leapt out of the way of the flames while blocking the sword of the bone lord. The flames burst around Roku’s armor, but other than helping to shake the chill from the bone lord from his muscles and some singed fur, he was none the worse for the wear. He cast invisibility on himself, and then maneuvered to the bone lord that was engaged with Simon. With a wild attack of his sword, Roku destroyed the bone lord, which fell apart and clattered to the floor. Simon dashed off down the hallway where another flaming skull and a skeletal archer had appeared, leaping between the flaming skulls to come up in front of the archer, kicking one skull as he went past. The skull exploded in a gout of fire, filling the hallway with heat and light, as Simon’s katana glanced off the second flaming skull. Roku turned invisible again and headed down to help the others who were being swarmed by ghouls.

Trish executed a double chop with her rune swords, severing the neck of the second ghoul that had dared to enter the presence of an initiate of Artol, whose mission in life was to turn the undead back into the real dead. She spun and advanced on the ghoul that had attacked Kabuto. The xern, while a pacifist at heart, had no qualms about a fight when his life was in jeopardy, and wielded his javelins with an ease borne of many hours of practice. His first jab missed, but his second hit the ghoul squarely in the shoulder, and as it fought to regain its balance, the first javelin lanced out through the creature’s eye socket and out through the back of its skull. It hung for a moment on the end of the javelin before a flick of Kabuto’s wrist sent it sailing into the column behind it with a sickening, broken thump. Storm Crow took a step back from the ghoul in front of him, trying to get a bead on a killing shot with his bow. Suddenly, Roku appeared beside the ghoul, and the one armed Fel clipped its head from its shoulders. As the body sank to the ground, Storm Crow released his arrow, sinking it deep into the face of a ghoul across the room.

The skeleton in front of Simon dropped its bow and grabbed an axe that had been strapped to its side, as Simon dodged the arrow fired at him from down the hall by a second skeleton. The remaining fire skull sent up a set of steps to Simon’s left, and was soon out of sight. The axe whistled by Simon harmlessly as he weaved a dance of steel and sinew. A swift strike from his katana destroyed the skeleton, and he advanced on the skeleton archer, his sashi just missing as the archer stepped back to switch weapons. His follow up strike killed the skeleton before it finished drawing its weapon, and Simon ran down a second stairwell, back to the room with the ghouls to see how his companions were faring.

Another set of ghouls advanced on the small knot of defenders by the entrance to the room. The one closest to Trish swiped clumsily at her, then died as her sword burst through its chest cavity under its armpit. A ghoul dragged its filthy claws across Roku, scoring him through a gap in his armor. A hastily aimed arrow from a skeletal archer across the room pierced the ghoul even as it hit Roku, and it fell to the ground, even as Trish destroyed another ghoul that had strayed within reach of her. Kabuto feinted to one side, then spun around on himself, catching the ghoul that had tried to dive for where he thought the Xarn was going to be with both of his javelins spearing through its unprotected side. With his opponent dead, Kabuto moved along the column to the north to be in a position to assist Trish, who had gone further into the room to continue her holy work of dispatching the undead, if she should need it. As he came close to the portcullis to the north, he noticed columns in the next room, with bas reliefs on the wall, as well as a light source. Dismissing that information for the moment, he returned his attention to the battle raging nearby.

As Trish dispatched four more of the undead enemies, Roku saw Storm Crow in trouble as he stumbled over a ghoul body while backing away from the one attacking him. Roku threw his bola at the ghoul, tangling the creature’s legs up and allowing Storm Crow to regain his balance and get away. With a roar, Roku sprang at the ghoul, snapping his jaws shut inches from the ghoul’s exposed neck. He stepped back, spinning the ghoul slightly as he released him, and flung three shuriken that lodged themselves deeply in the ghoul’s neck. He then spun around and with a whipping kick, driving the shuriken through the creature’s neck as well as breaking it. The ghoul fell to the ground, the light finally gone from its evil eyes forever.

While the others dispatched the last of the undead, Kabuto wandered over to the dwarves who were chained to the wall. He watched with wonder as the groaning dwarf’s wounds began to heal themselves. His insides crawled slowly back into his body, and the edges of the wounds given by the ghouls began to knit themselves together. “This is the last of them,” said Storm Crow, as he loosed an arrow into the final ghoul, a small one that had spent most of the fight cowering behind a statue. Trish took the time to introduce the party to Kabuto, who in turn told them of how the wounds of the dwarves were healing themselves. Every time the rune at the top of the column they were chained to pulsed, the wounds would knit together more. Simon brought out Telpurr, who healed the wounded and Kabuto picked up a number of hand axes and put them into his pack. He looked briefly at one of the dwarven crossbows, then dropped it with an annoyed click of his mandibles as he realized he would never be able to manipulate the controls, made as they were for dwarves, and not Xern.

Roku approached one of the dwarves. “You look quite the worse for wear, my friend,” he said.

The dwarf very slightly moved his head to the sound of Roku’s voice and he said raspily, “Kill me, kill me, have mercy”.

None of the dwarves seemed capable of anything more than begging for mercy, so the party brought Walac in to pick the locks on the shackles holding the dwarves up. “Bring up the rear, Walac,” complained the Lir, “stay out of sight, Walac, pick the lock, Walac. I remember when I was capable of so much more!” Finishing with the lock, the dwarf fell to the ground and immediately collapsed into a pile of dust. Walac removed the shackles from each of the dwarves, and he liked to think that there was just a hint of a smile of relief on their faces as they turned to dust. When he had finished with the last one, Kabuto tapped him on the shoulder and began to sign. “I would like to see what happens if I strap myself into the shackles,” he signed.

Walac’s eyes gleamed, “That’s a GREAT idea. Wish I had thought of it, and glad you’re volunteering!”

Moments later, Kabuto was shackled to the wall, and his eyes clouded over with a vision. Then the rune at the top of the column pulsed and he screamed, thrashing about as his mandibles clashed together in pain. Walac had him down quickly, and the rest of the party had come running at the sound of the scream. “All of these dwarves were accused of being paramours to the queen. The king put them here to torture them for their crimes,” he signed to the rest of the group.

“No creature, regardless of their crimes deserves this fate,” said Roku, anger twisting his face.

“Not even the Lazuri?” signed Kabuto.

“Not even the Lazuri,” said Roku with finality.

As the group searched the room, Trish said, “I know where we are”.

“Where is that?” asked Simon.

“The crypts of Xaar,” said Trish flatly.

Simon looked at her intensely, “Isn’t that the Chaos nest that we were going to bring in an army to clear?”

Trish nodded. “It’s the same place. Here’s what I know apart from that, concerning these crypts. The kingdom of Xaar was a shining jewel in the crown of the Necessary Empire. The dwarves of Xaar had built a city with universities, temples and great fighting academies that produced warriors that were especially proficient at killing Chaos. As the Chaos war raged on, it was the shining Knights of Xaar that turned the tide in battle after battle. As the age was drawing to an end and chaos had retreated back into the dark and barren places, the people of Xaar grew proud and arrogant in their success. They knew no army could stand against them, so why shouldn’t they be the new seat of power in the empire?”

Trish shook her head sadly. “Such arrogance quickly held sway amongst the populace, and soon the dwarves and the Knights of Xaar were marching on nearby kingdoms and crushing them under their hobnailed boots. The empire could not let this transgression go unpunished, and sent its armies to retaliate against the walled city of Xaar. After a prolonged and bloody siege, the armies of the empire were triumphant, but the once glorious city of Xaar lay in ruins at their feet and the very Knights of Xaar that had once saved them were now vanquished. It is said that many of the victors actually wept after the last battle where the Knights of Xaar made their last stand. As penance for the destruction they had been forced to do, the soldiers and citizens of the empire created great crypts among the ruins to honor the fallen dead. These once great heroes were entombed in all their finery and gear, for if they had been the empire’s enemies, they had also at one time been among their greatest heroes. The tombs were sealed and the small valley in which Xaar lay was sealed and guarded against tomb robbers and the like.”

“In the decades that followed, the empire fell and the soldiers guarding the tomb were called home to deal with other strife associated with the fall a world spanning empire. The ruins and tombs were left unguarded, and over the years, largely forgotten. Within the last century, Chaos, without the Knights of Xaar to repel them, crossed through the broken gates of mighty Xaar for the first time in history. Here they found rich vaulted tombs and stout, strong limbed, well preserved corpses. The vampires and liches sang their songs of adoration to Mortalan and set to work raising an undead army unlike any seen before on the face of the disk. This was no shambling horde of mutilated peasants raised fresh from a battlefield; these were the once mighty Knights of Xaar raised in all their glory. The dark priests bound the twisted shades of these great heroes into their desiccated corpses and they rose from their long sleep as the first bone lords!” Trish’s voice broke slightly as she paused, tears streaming down her face.

“In the present, the priests of Artol have built a small temple and fighting academy among the ruins where they train grim warriors to battle the hordes that emerge from the dark crypts of Xaar,” she said, “we have assistance here if we need it, but I don’t know where they are, nor where we are, other than in the most vague of terms”.

With the search of the room finally completed, the party turned their attention to the portcullises on the coreward side of the room. Simon noticed gears at the top of the mechanism, and after a short while and much effort, they raised the portcullis, which locked into place with a resounding click. They entered a short hallway, and found themselves confronted with another portcullis. A few moments work later, and that portcullis was also secured into the mechanism above, and the party had access to the room beyond. Kabuto crept silently into the room, and saw that it was a huge chamber filled with statues. Immediately to the left of the portcullis was a gigantic withered hand which was flanked coreward by a gold fountain on the left and a silver fountain on the right. As he crept towards the fountain, he could see into the next room, where there was a red carpet stretched between two rows of columns with statues on either side of the column. There were also three sarcophagi in the room, one on either side, a female to the left, and a young male to the right, and one large one at the end of the red carpet, directly coreward. Most of the statues seemed to be of dwarven warriors, although there were shield maidens and animals, even an elf represented. Kabuto turned to the party, which had gathered around the mummified hand and were looking at it with interest. He clicked his mandibles to get their attention, then signed, “Teral, the god of the dwarves, was killed by Sinooth, the mad god, during the Chaos wars as retribution for Guha embarrassing him during a prisoner exchange. After he was killed, Sinooth cut him into pieces, and is rumored to wear his head as a decoration on his belt. The other pieces of Teral were scattered across the disc, and the dwarves have been trying to find them ever since. I’d wager we’re looking at the hand of a long dead god!”

His story finished, Kabuto turned his attention to the fountains. He dropped some items in but nothing seemed to happen to them or to the fountain. As he continued to experiment with the fountains, the rest of the party moved cautiously into the room. Storm Crow headed straight for the sarcophagus on the left, and as he drew near, there was a flash of light coreward, near the tomb at the end of the carpet. Two summoning circles on either side of the carpet crackled and hummed with energy, and with a pop, two metal golems, the one on the left gleaming of gold and the one on the right gleaming of silver, sprang into being in the circle, with steam pouring from them. Storm Crow, overcome with fear, cowered behind the nearest statue, as the golems moved forward clanking and steaming. As the golems cleared the circle and continued to move forward, there was another pop, and another two golems came into existence in the circles and began to move. Simon ran into the middle of the room within sight of both of the golems and shouted, “I come in peace as a priest of Bandar, to honor the dwarven dead! I mean no harm!”

The golems continued to clank across the room, and Simon noticed the lid of the coreward sarcophagus had begun to move. Kabuto flung one of his recently acquired hand axes at the circles, but though it hit the circle, it clattered across the ground without effect, coming to rest against the boot of the newest golem to arrive. Trish noticed the lid of the young dwarf’s sarcophagus sliding open and called a warning as a creature wrapped in cloth rose up and began to wave his arms menacingly. A similar creature, wearing bronze armor and carrying a crossbow emerged from the coreward tomb. It began to mumble an incantation, and suddenly the floor around Trish, Roku and Kabuto erupted in greenish black flames. Trish’s armor caught fire, but Roku and Kabuto missed the brunt of the blast, and helped Trish put out the flames. By now, the first of the golems reached Simon, and swung clumsily at the rune lord, who danced out of the way of the blade. The young mummy and another golem had reached where Trish had finally put her armor out, but both of their attacks missed their targets. Kabuto dodged the short sword attack of the mummy and countered with a devastating thrust of his javelin that destroyed the undead creature. His second attack glanced off the golem bearing down on Trish, and he backpedalled away from the combat as Trish engaged the golem.

Simon dodged a bolt sent his way from the bronze armored mummy, and he teleported to the pedestal where the sarcophagus was. “I came to pay my respects, and this is how you repay me?” said Simon.

The mummy dropped the crossbow and grabbed a staff, heading towards Simon. “This is why I kill everything, talking never seems to work,” muttered Simon under his breath as the mummy approached.

Simon cast a shield spell, and advanced on the mummy. One strike from his katana made it through, and the mummy shuddered to a stop, then swung the staff, striking Simon in the chest. Simon’s reflexes moved him out of the way just in time, but he could feel the attack trying to suck the very life force from his chest, and cast a hurried flame spell on his blades. Surely those rags covering the mummy should be dry enough to go up by now!

Roku dipped his bolas in the water of the silver fountain and threw them at the silver golem, but they simply bounced off and slid across the floor. He then moved to where Kabuto was filling a canteen from the golden fountain and dipped another set of bolas in the water and threw them at the silver golem. Seeing that there was no effect to this either, Roku quickly ran to the silver fountain and drank some of the water from there. Other than a slightly metallic taste, there was no noticeable effect, so he took some water from the silver fountain to the gold fountain and dropped it in. Nothing happened. As a last resort, Roku cast a shadowbolt at the fountain, but the only thing that happened was a light frost formed over the water in the basin.

Trish finally managed a thrust into the silver golem’s gear box after the majority of her attacks had glanced of the creature’s heavy armor. As the golem slumped to the floor, she ran towards the pedestal where she had just seen Simon take a grievous hit. She was suddenly surrounded by three of the golems, and she killed one of them, as the other two struck at her. One missed completely, and the other one glanced a blow off her armor, causing her to drop Keller’s Razor, which slid to the base of one of the nearby statues.

Simon’s attacks had set the mummy on fire, but he had been severely wounded. He slashed him with his burning katana, setting the mummy’s rags on fire, and with a spinning back kick that crushed the chest of the undead creature, he launched the now dead mummy across the room.

Kabuto took off his cloak and soaked it in water from the gold fountain, then ran and threw it at the silver circle, where another golem had just appeared. The cloak settled on the circle wetly, but with no noticeable effect. He retreated to the coffin of the female dwarf as the mummy that Simon had just killed slid to a stop near his feet. As he approached the unopened sarcophagus, he was struck by two things, the fact that the tomb was still sealed, and that instead of Chaos runes on the surface, this one had Death runes. Trish could have told him that the dead who had been given the proper burial rites from Artol could not be raised, and that the Death runes would have been proof that the female would be no threat to them, but she was fighting for her life and couldn’t tell him these things. Kabuto sprinkled water from the fountain on the sarcophagus and torches surrounding it. The torches sputtered, and a few went out, but there were no other effects. As he turned to try something else, he noticed a mirror directly across from the tomb he was standing on. In the mirror, he could see the same tomb, but the reflection showed gold and great riches heaped around where he was standing. What could it all mean?

View
An Unexpected Path
Father Vargas' trap threatens to entomb the heroes...

Elisandra’s warning no sooner leaves her lips than the party finds their journey detoured into a pitch black chamber of some kind. Your surprised voices echo off of distant walls and Grimclaw sneezes at the musty dry air. “Master, the runes on the circle were drawn in blood!" said Elisandra.

“This place smells of death my friends be on your guard!” growls Trish

An unnatural cold descends on you and you hear the disembodied voice of Father Vargas, “Prospero, your apprentice is better at her craft than I gave her credit for. She spotted my little enhancement to the homing circle, but alas, just a moment too late. Not to worry, I’ve left you in the company of friends. Be nice to them and maybe they will have you for dinner. Dreymoor introduce yourself.”

A voice, dark and raspy like sandpaper on dry wood, speaks from close by. "I’m sorry I cannot stay to watch, but the Warden will greet you properly along with his charges. Arise my bone lords! Tomb raiders and defilers have come to steal your treasures and disturb your rest!”

A door closes nearby as the grinding sound of stone sarcophagus lids and moaning of the rising dead fills the dusty air…..

Simon drew his sword and brought the light of Bandar into the pitch black tomb.

A small band of dwarven bone lords rose up from their sarcophagi to challenge them. Roku and Storm Crow stepped up engage the threat. Once it was clear that Simon could handle the twisted constructs, Roku moved among the shadows to explore the depths of the chamber. He spied the mummified, chain wielding dwarven creature called the Warden, and probed his defenses with by stabbing at him with a lance of solidified darkness.

Simon called out the power of the sun and the tomb saw light for the first time in centuries. The undead creatures recoiled in pain and Simon pressed his advantage. Roku entangled the Warden with his bola, enveloped him with silence to prevent him casting spells, bathed him in oil from an nearby lamp and set him alight with a spark from his flint.

With the room empty of threats, the party searched their environs and found a sealed door and some treasure in the Warden’s sarcophagus. Roku strapped on the gorgeous dwarven leather he found while Prospero examined a strange wand made of a cobalt blue stone and engraved with stasis runes and an open hand with a pentagram on the palm. Prospero looked it over and handed it to Roku.

“Sixth journeyman dynasty, the hand and pentacle give it away, not sure what it does, but it’s beautiful specimen. It’s definitely got some charge left.” said Prospero. “It’s a princely find. Use it well student and you may yet survive this.”

Storm Crow found a lever to open the sealed door and a band of musty, dusty dwarven skeletons and zombies burst into the room. Simon leapt behind them to attack en masse and found that they were being guided a powerful sorcerous lich. The lich cast a green black bolt of energy at Simon and ran for a door further down the corridor.

Simon pursued and overtook him, but the lich turned suddenly and tapped Simon chest with is staff. Simon’s heart immediately started to hammer and he felt his spirit being pulled from his body. Simon cried out in anguish and fell to the floor unconscious. Roku had dispatched the last of the lich’s bodyguards and he charged down the corridor to defend Simon’s fallen form from further abuse.

The lich was unconcerned with a mere student, and proceeded to flee out the door at the end of the corridor. Roku struck the lich’s arm and forced him to drop his staff. He shouldered the door closed and separated the lich from his infernal device. Telpurr materialized and heal Simon enough to get him on his feet.

“That staff is an abomination, it draws the life from you. I am weakened but I can fight. Let us destroy this tool of chaos.”

They carefully moved the staff into the tomb and prepared to destroy it, but the lich returned thru teleportation or some secret passage to engage them in battle once more and reclaim his prize. Trish though it odd that the lich was human but all of the other undead creatures were dwarves.

The lich reclaimed his staff after a fierce battle where Simon and Roku nearly destroyed him. Once he had it in hand he fled suddenly through some unknown means and despite clever search tactics deployed by Roku, they could find no trace of him.

“Perhaps we should hunt him down while he is weak,” said Roku, but Simon’s weakened state made them put that plan on hold.

Trish felt that the sights in the tombs were familiar to her from the tales she learned at the temple, but she could not pull forth the details from her memories. As Prospero prodded Trish to remember, Simon and Roku pondered the mystery of Father Vargus and how they heard his voice at the start of the fight. Simon pulled out the compass that Dagaral had enchanted for him and asked it to find their foe. The needle jumped erratically until Roku suggested orienting it vertically at which point the needle jump to point at the ceiling.

“He is above us. Let’s find a way up.” said Simon

The party found the winding stairwell and climbed in a flickering light of Simon’s katana. They encountered a number of undead sentinels standing guard who tried to stop them. Simon’s ordeal with the lich had raised his ire and he used his rage to make short work of them. They emerged from the stair into a room with a grotesque fountain that had been perverted into some type of chaotic shrine. The room’s door opened into a dark corridor and they moved quickly to be gone from the sickening shrine.

No sooner had they stepped in to the corridor than a series of traps fired arrows and opened pits beneath their feet. Simon bounced between the walls to land at a door. He push through it and pulled Roku and Storm Crow along with him.

in this chamber they saw huge statues of a beautiful queen and a fierce warrior king. The queen looked down upon them with pity, the king with scorn. Six crucified dwarves hung from stone pillars and screamed out cries of great agony as hungry ghouls at their feet disembowel them with dirty claws while feasting on their entrails. The ghouls hummed and purred over their wailing victims forming a macabre chorus that tugged at Roku’s sanity while turning his stomach.

“What madness is this?”

Simon saw some stairs and leapt to engage the undead guardians there. Roku took a more cautious route and kept to the shadows as he inched along the edge of the room hoping to avoid the attention of he ghouls. As he moved he spied a smaller, scrawnier ghoul crouching and cringing behind the king’s statue. He saw Roku and cringed even further seeking to avoid this advance. Roku lanced the darkens at him and he wailed in agony.

“Oh the pain! The smiting and the biting. Wicked, wicked creature!”

Simon cleared the stairs and the heroes prepared for their next move…

View
Dagaral Returns

Trish, Simon, and Susi stepped through the mirror into a room full of broken furniture and litter. Three men were looking out a crack in the door to the room. “I can’t wait to change and become more powerful,” said one, a skinny, dirty looking man.

“Ye’ll probly be one o’ them rats, by the look of ye,” the big man beside him laughed, slapping him hard on the back, “I does wonder if it’ll hurt, though,” he added quietly.

The big man never found out whether being turned to a malamorph would hurt or not, as Trish’s blade slid between his ribs and up into his heart. Simon’s katana took out the second and third man before they registered what had happened to their friend. Simon stepped towards the door and listened for a moment. He heard a voice say, “Mr. Tussman, we must away, we wouldn’t want to miss the feast of Dagaral, now, would we?” followed by raucous laughter.

Simon opened the door, and slipped out onto the landing, casting an invisibility spell on himself as he went through. He was on the second floor of a large home, and could see that the furnishings throughout the place had been carefully and systematically destroyed. Paintings hung on the wall askew, with slashes through them, furniture was smashed and piled in heaps, and the walls had been gashed, whether by weapons or inhuman claws could not be determined. Once at the edge of the landing, he could see a group of people, some who appeared to be city guards, standing on the first floor. A butler came in carrying cloaks for the man and woman who stood in the center of the guards. “Good Morning,” called Simon, letting his invisibility drop.

The man spun to face him, “What are you doing in my house?”

Simon replied, “I’m afraid you are in league with malamorphs, and I’ll have to kill you, unless you can convince me otherwise”.

At that moment, Simon realized that he had seen the man, his wife and the butler before. They had been among the townsfolk that had been released from the mirror. Simon jumped from the landing, and struck the man with his katana, wounding him. As soon as the weapon touched the man, the Malam’s bane the priests had put on his weapon while they released the prisoners of the mirror took effect, and in his place stood one of the hideous thought eaters, tentacles waving from his chin. Simon pushed the woman to the side, knocking her off balance, and killing her with a single strike of his blade. The body that hit the floor was not a woman at all, but another of the thought eaters.

Having heard the sounds of battle, Trish exited the room and ran down the staircase, and was met by one of the guards. She struck out with Oblivion, and the man transformed into a man wolf before her eyes. Susi shot at another guard, who turned into a man rat, clutching the arrow that had lanced through his throat.

With a roar, the butler dropped the cloaks and transformed into a man bear, and with their disguises now worthless, the rest of the guards transformed into their respective forms, as man rats and man wolves. A crossbow bolt slashed across Susi’s arm, and he could feel the poison from the bolt begin to weaken him. As Trish’s blade cut the lower jaw from the man wolf she faced, killing him, Simon dodged the clumsy attack of the former butler, slashing down and killing the thought eater. “Noooo,” roared the man bear, as he went berserk and landed a flurry of blows on Simon, wounding him badly.

“Bandar, heal me, and allow me to carry on the battle against the agents of Chaos!” cried Simon, staggering backwards. A golden glow enveloped Simon, who briefly took on the aspect of Bandar, and his wounds were gone!

Two man rats scrambled at Trish as she came to aid Simon, and she slashed as she stepped sideways, cutting one of the creatures completely in half, and spun around hitting the man bear with her second blade. Simon rolled under the arms of the man bear, and carved a crude ‘s’ on his leg. Trish spun low, and cut the man bear’s feet out from under him, killing it, and stood up, killing a man rat with a back swipe from her sword.

The remaining man wolf came charging up the stairs at Susi, who fired an arrow at the creature. The man wolf yelped as the arrow bit deep into the flesh of his shoulder, but continued to bound up the stairs. Susi dropped his bow, drawing his axe, and sank the blade deep into the creature’s side. As the creature dropped at his feet, the first of the priests came through the door having made it through the mirror on the other side. Father Lucan pointed at the green band on his arm, “Sorry we’re late, we decided we needed a way to distinguish us from our mirrored forms!”

The party left the house, and found themselves on the coreward side of the town, but the town was deserted. “Everybody has gone to the temple for the feast,” said Simon, “We need to get to the temple, but some of you need to go to the Menagerie to make sure they don’t release any more of the animals!”

Simon, Trish, Susi, and a group of the priests and townsfolk headed toward the temple. They could hear the activity before they saw it, with music coming from inside the temple. The palisade outside contained the majority of the town, and temple initiates stood at the doors to both the temple and the palisade, greeting the townsfolk. Susi fired an arrow at a guard nearest the gate to the palisade, and as soon as the Malam’s Bane touched him, he transformed into a man rat. People nearby began to scream and run towards the temple in a panic, and a second guard dropped his disguise, revealing that he was also a man rat. As Susi and Trish engaged the man rats, Simon used his training to go over the palisade wall, and ran across the top of the sea of people in the courtyard until he arrived on the temple steps. Simon ran into the temple proper and saw Father Vargas standing with a number of the temple priests, including Father Lucan. “Father Vargas, they’re malamorphs,” shouted Simon.

Simon teleported behind Father Lucan and cut him down with his katana, and the body turned into that of a thought eater. “You were right, Simon!” called Father Vargas.

Simon began to cut down the false priests, who began changing into their malamorph forms. As they moved to surround him, a shout from behind caused them to pause. Simon could see the form of the Jade King, spinning and leaping while he chanted a dwarven war song, as he cut down a man bear with his great axe, and the townspeople were close behind him.

Susi killed the man rat he was fighting, and as Trish worked to finish off hers, he sprang into the air, flew to the top of the gate and perched where he could better see the crowd within the palisade. Within the confines of the great wooden fence, he could see that the malamorphs had given up their charade, transforming and beginning to cut down as many people as they could. He could see man wolves and man rats consuming their still living victims, and took aim at one man rat about to kill a child, putting an arrow through the creature’s eye and killing him instantly. Another arrow took down one of the thought eaters, and he could see Trish wading into the fray, having finally dispatched the man rat guard.

Simon and the Jade King were killing machines, dropping one after another of the malamorphs. Simon could feel the stab of a mind spear hitting him, and he shouted, “I can feel the power of the Jade King flowing through me! I don’t fear your puny mind attacks,” as his katana slashed across the throat of one of the thought eaters, severing its head from its neck.

The Jade King called out to Simon with a laugh, “Well done, boy! They go down just as easy as they used to!”

Suddenly, a confused look came to the face of the Jade King, and he looked down at the sword blade that had burst through his chest. He fell to the floor lifeless, and Father Vargas looked Simon in the eye as he pulled the sword from the dwarf’s body, then turned and ran. Simon threw his sashi in the air, rolled past the claws of a man wolf and grabbed the Jade King’s axe, which he then lodged in the creature’s spine. He dropped the haft of the axe and caught the sashi in his off hand , walking towards the temple entrance without looking back as the body hit the ground behind him.

Priests rushed to the side of the Jade King, but he was beyond their help, the assassin had done his job well. Father Vargas couldn’t be found and all of his mercenaries were gone as well. Prospero and Ellisandra came back to the temple some hours later, and that was when the party found that there had been some trouble at the menagerie. Some creatures had been set free, but they were quickly contained, and the ones responsible dealt with swiftly and harshly. The Jade King was given another burial, this time in a prominent place within the temple. Simon took his axe to bring to the dwarves as proof of his death, so they could recover his body.

Over the next tenday, the freed priests and the townspeople began to restore the temple to its former glory. The party helped with the cleanup, and largely due to their efforts, the townsfolk also helped Father Ray to restore the Temple of All Faiths in town. Simon gave Father Ray a sizeable amount of jade from the tomb of the Jade King. “Thank you so much, Simon,” said Father Ray draping an arm around Simon’s shoulders, “Now, let’s talk about gilding for the sun dome”.

“I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do,” said Father Lucan. “We’ve tried everything that we know, but we can’t cure the disease in Susi and Trish. We will supply you with as many of the leaves as we can, but eventually, the curse is going to take you. I am truly sorry”.

“We also don’t have more time to stay,” said Prospero, “Captain Ward won’t wait forever, we need to get to Horn Cove and deal with the pirates and the necromancer. If there’s nothing more we can do here, then we must be away”.

The party gathered their things and went to the homing platform. There were a number of people there, either waiting to go, or wanting to see them off. Two Feathers met Simon as they walked up the path to the platform. “Old friend, glad to see you again,” said Simon, “Perhaps you and your men could come and train recruits in the Kingdom of Broad Shoulders to be scouts.”

“Only if they are better students than you, Simon,” agreed Two Feather, “We will come as soon as the way is clear.”

Gnorl and Urzul walked by on their way to the platform, “And should you ever have need of us, we will bring Calamity with us, along with as many warriors as will come!”

As the party waited for their turn at the platform, a voice called out from behind them, “Come here, I would have a word with you”.

Simon and the others turned and saw the old man, Ian leaning on his staff. They followed him into the room he was standing in front of. “So, it appears that Dagaral does dwell in the temple?” he said with a chuckle.

The air rippled in front of him with raw power, and suddenly Dagaral himself stood before them! “You have saved my temple, and restored the faith of my people. This is a gift not easily given. First, I will cleanse you of the curse”.

Dagaral waved his hand and Trish and Susi could feel the curse lift from their souls. “Additionally, you will each gain aid from the beasts of the forest, and I grant you each a companion”.

An eagle flew from the rafters and perched on Susi’s shoulder, a ferret poked its head out of Simon’s pouch, and a wolf walked from behind Dagaral to Trish, licked her hand, and sat down beside her. “I thank you again for your service…”

“I request a boon, Dagaral,” interrupted Simon.

Dagaral looked at Simon, “Really? What would you ask for, follower of Bandar?”

“One thing,” replied Simon, “Give me the ability to track Father Vargas, I would pay him back for his treachery”.

Dagaral chuckled, “Well asked, Simon. Father Vargas is due to pay for his transgressions”.

Dagaral held out his hand and gave Simon the compass he had given the dragon earlier on. “Now, it will track both the Sword Which Should Not Be Drawn, as well as Father Vargas. You can decide which. Bless you all.”

Dagaral vanished in a flash of light, leaving the party and their new companions alone in the room. They went to the homing platform, and when it was their turn, they stood on the platform and Prospero and Ellisandra began their spells. As they began to fade out, Ellisandra cried out, “No, Wait!”

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Mirrors!

Free from the choking smoke and the swarms of insects, Simon and Trish crept down the narrow hallway. They came to a set of columns with two of the now familiar braziers smoking outside of them. Through the columns they could see two sarcophagi and a chest in the back of the room. “Should we check out the chest?” asked Simon.

Trish thought a moment before answering, “No, let’s keep after the ones we’ve followed. There will be time enough to check for treasure later, but we’re running out of time to find our enemies. Besides, if they come back while we’re in a trap, like the last room we were in, we’ll be in real trouble”.

Simon nodded, and continued down the hallway, following the tracks in the dust. After turning left at the junction of the rooms, they found Colby standing outside a room that appeared to be an armory. In addition to rows of weapons in racks along the walls, there were various jade statues, all in martial poses. Four were in the corners of the room, and the one in the center showed a bearded man holding aloft a sword triumphantly, as if he had just vanquished a host of foes. The party continued on, aware that time was running out for Trish.

The next room, to their right, had an unbroken layer of ancient dust covering the floor, and the braziers were not lit, so they continued on to the next one. This room had four statues, again in the corners of the room, each holding a lit brazier, and there was a pedestal against one wall. The hallway took a right turn, and ended at a cavern wall. Colby searched for a secret passage, as the footprints stopped at the wall, but if there was one, he wasn’t able to locate the trigger. “Let’s see if there is a trigger in one of the other rooms,” suggested Trish.

The party cautiously entered the room with the book, stepping in the footprints left by the others that had gone through the room. “Lift me up, I want to see the book,” said Colby.

Trish lifted the Lir up and he began to read aloud. “I, Cedric the Sage, proclaim that we have laid the Jade King to rest on this day, may the Elements watch over him. In the twilight of his life, our master’s purpose in life was to locate such tools as the Journeymen left to the world. When he had collected such of these as he deemed necessary for his works, he began to search the world for mirrors. His retainers cried, ‘O, Great King, why are you searching for mirrors?’ to which the Jade King would reply (if he deigned to notice their pleas), ‘The mirrors reflect life, but they are also portals to immortality. I must have more’. In his final days, our Lord had his pallet laid in front of the mirrors, where he would stare at his reflection and hold conversations, as if with an old friend….”

“There’s more here, but I need to get closer to turn the page,” said Colby.

Trish moved away from the pedestal and placed the Lir on the floor, “Better that we don’t touch it, Colby, we’ve already sprung one trap that almost got us as it is”.

Colby led the way into the next room, which was empty, except for two jade statues standing in the corners. He went between the statues through the door to the other room. As Trish entered the room, a door crashed down behind them, shaking the floor. The statues to her right began to move, bringing their spears and shields into a fighting stance as they lumbered from the corners of the room. Moments later, both statues had been shattered, their broken bodies added to the rubble on the floor. “Hey guys,” called Colby from the next room, “I’ve got a problem here!”

Simon and Trish rushed to the door, and could see two more statues moving towards Colby, only these had what looked like veins of lava in them. Simon attacked the closest one, but barely dodged out of the way when it leaned towards him and vomited a stream of lava at him. The lava hit the floor and spread out, making a large heated puddle towards the middle of the room. Simon’s next attack shattered the statue’s face, sending it to the ground with a concussion that broke its body apart. He followed up with his sashi and a kick that crushed the remaining statue. Trish went back to check the door behind them, and Colby called from the next room, “Simon, we have more statues!”

Trish ran past the remains of the defeated statues, coming into the room where Simon was already engaged with the new enemies. These statues were made of metal, with sparks crackling from their eyes and mouth and steam coming from their ears. Thick, oily smoke poured from a hole between their shoulder blades as they staggered unsteadily forward. Trish engaged the one closest to her, but her blades merely sparked off the metal skin of the statues. With a flurry of attacks, Simon destroyed one after another of the statues, until there were none left to fight.

Colby scampered to the upper wall of the room, “Look! A chest!!”

He pulled out his lockpicks and set to work on the chest. There was a click, then the lid of the chest flew open, and tentacles sprang from the sides of the chest. It was actually a living creature, which was dragging Colby into its open maw. A few swift strikes with Simon’s katana left the creature dead and sagging on the floor, and Colby safe, but panting, beside it. When the creature died, all of the treasure it carried inside it spilled out, with at least 3000 talons worth of small pieces of jade, as well as a potion and a suit of chainmail. Simon placed as much of the treasure as he could into his pack and the party exited the room into the corridor.

A few feet into the corridor, and the party could make out a shape in the darkness ahead. Trish’s Journeyman candle didn’t reach far enough for her or Simon to make out what it was, but Colby’s night vision could. “Gnorl,” he called, “How did you get here?”

The figure was indeed Gnorl, who was kneeling over a badly injured Urzul. The big troll sighed, “Our temple sent us to get the spear, Calamity. We can’t enter the room, though, it’s protected against Darkness. That’s how Urzul got hurt. Her staff can turn off the automatic defenses, but can’t do anything against the ward”.

“Why did you leave us?” asked Simon.

“This was our task,” said Gnorl sadly, “Also, when we heard you strike the bargain with the dragon, we were afraid that would be the end of our mission.”

“I haven’t made up my mind about the dragon yet, and I’m still mad about him taking the compass from me,” said Simon, “Where is the spear?”

Gnorl took the party a short way down the hall, to another open room. Through the columns, a sarcophagus was visible, with a chest on the far side of the room. Simon pulled a rope from his pack and secured it around his waist. “If something happens, pull me out,” he said to Gnorl as he handed him the end.

Simon walked across the room without incident. He looked into the sarcophagus, and saw a humanoid creature, which had become mummified over the years. It was wearing armor similar in style to the statues they had seen, but its head looked like an octopus; bulbous on one end with tentacles on its chin. After looking at the corpse for a moment, he continued across the room and came to the chest. It was rotted with age, and as he put his hand out to touch it, the chest crumbled, spilling its contents across the floor. There was a fortune in jade, a nice dagger and a wand with runes carved on it. The prize, however, was a four edged spear tip that radiated power. This had to be Calamity. Simon scooped up the dagger, wand, and as much jade as he could. He carefully wrapped the spear point in the chain mail they had found earlier, and exited the room.

Urzul, who had recovered somewhat, met Simon as he came out of the room, “Simon, please let me have the spear point, so we can complete our quest,” she said pleadingly.

Simon looked at her and said, “We still have to find the rest of the spear, this is only the point”.

Urzul shook her head, “No Simon, we don’t. My staff is the shaft of Calamity!”

“I will consider it, but for now, we still have some unfinished business with some malamorphs,” said Simon.

Urzul reset the traps, and suppressed a few that they hadn’t tripped. They found themselves once more at the end of the corridor that Colby had searched before. Everyone began to search for a way to open the passageway they were now sure was on the other side of the wall. Trish ran her hand along the wall, and found a portion that was indented slightly. She pushed at the indentation, and it moved, causing a door to open at the end of the corridor with a grating sound. The party entered the corridor, and began to creep along as quietly as they could. It was too small for the trolls, who kept scraping their backs along the top and sides of the tunnel, but it was like a highway to the Lir. Eventually the tunnel led to another door, which was easily found and opened from this side. The party stepped out, and found themselves in the lair beneath the pond where Trish and Susi had been bitten. As they stood in the sleeping area of the lair, a secret door on the other side opened, and a man rat stepped out into the sleeping area, carrying a plate of food and a flagon. He looked up, and seeing the party, dropped what he was carrying with a clatter, and ran back through the secret door, without bothering to close it. Simon looked at the secret door and said, “Well, we should leave and go warn the temple”.

Simon began walking back the way they came. “Where are you going?” asked Trish.

“To warn the temple,” said Simon mechanically.

Trish reached out and slapped Simon across the face with her gauntleted hand, “Snap out of it Simon”.

Simon looked at her and said, “But, we have to warn the temple”.

Trish said, “Simon, you like to kill the man rats”.

“I do like to kill the man rats,” said Simon with a smile.

“Let’s go kill the man rats, Simon,” said Trish.

Simon shook his head as if he were just waking up. “What are we doing? Let’s go get that guy!”

Simon reached into his bag and handed Urzul the head of Calamity. Urzul’s face lit up and she began to attach the head of the spear to her staff, as Simon and the others followed the man rat down the secret tunnel. There was a door at the end of the hallway, and Simon kicked it open, only to find himself staring at what appeared to be thousands of himself. He had found a room full of mirrors. Simon tied a rope around himself, and Trish tied the other end around her waist. Then Simon cast invisibility on himself, and closed his eyes, using his blind fighting technique to walk through the maze of mirrors. After about ten minutes walking through the maze, a crossbow bolt zipped towards Simon, but he shifted slightly at the twang of the bowstring, and it sailed harmlessly by Simon’s head.

As he turned the corner, a force began to drag him down the hall, pulling Trish around the corner. Trish dug in and pulled back on the rope with all her might until whatever was dragging Simon gave up and he fell to the floor in front of the mirror he had been being pulled towards. The slack in the rope caused Trish to fall over. As she stood up, she turned towards the mirror behind her, reached out and touched the surface. Trish disappeared, and the rope fell to the floor in front of the mirror she touched.

As Simon stood and tried to determine where Trish had gone, a voice echoed through the room, “You won’t find her,” it said.

“I think I will,” replied Simon, but there was no further reply.

A couple of moments later, Trish came around the corner, holding her head. Simon rushed up to her, “Where did you go?” he asked.

“I dunno,” she said.

Simon bent down to retrieve the rope, and saw Trish in the mirror frantically waving her arms and shaking her head “no”. Simon turned and found the creature he had thought was Trish was the same type of tentacled monstrosity that he had seen in the sarcophagus. Simon began to grapple with the creature, but the tentacles were reaching out for his nose, mouth, and ears. Realizing that he couldn’t break the monstrous creature’s grasp, Simon went limp, pretending to pass out. As the creature leaned over him, Simon leapt over its head, coming up behind it and drawing his weapons in a smooth, practiced motion. He slashed one of the tentacles from the creature’s face and kicked it in the sternum, wounding it severely. The creature waved one of its arms and Simon’s head began to feel as if it would explode. Simon kicked out at the creature, hitting it in the head, and it dropped unconscious to the floor. Simon’s head felt better immediately. He looked at the mirrors around him, and saw the figure of the shopkeeper in the one to his right. She was pointing at the unconscious creature, se he went over and began searching. He found a couple of keys in a pouch, which he put into his pocket. He then lifted the creature and threw it against the mirror Trish was in. Trish popped free of the mirror, and she and Simon could see the creature lying in a heap on the other side.

“Where were you?” asked Simon.

“In the mirror, as far as I can tell,” replied Trish, “There was nothing there, except a doorway that I could see out of. There was mist, but other than that, there was just…nothing. I didn’t feel hungry, or tired, or thirsty at all, I just was.”

After they resecured the rope around their waists, Simon went through the hallway using his blind fighting technique, and Trish looked at the mirrors as they past. She saw many of the townspeople, to include wardens and priests, as well as one large bearded dwarf with green robes, wearing a jade crown. Before long, Simon came to the end of the mirrors, as well as another door, and they removed the rope from their waists, replacing it in his pack. “We should fight to subdue, in case they need to be alive to come out of the mirrors,” he said.

Simon took one of the keys from the creature in the mirror and unlocked the door. An altar was visible as he pushed open the door, and when he entered the room a flight of crossbow bolts impacted the wall and doorframe behind him. The room was full of malamorphs and men with octopus heads. Simon subdued a man pig near the door, and wounded another on the other side, then cast a shield spell. The man rats ran to the stairs on Simon’s left and began to reload their crossbows, as the man pig attacked Simon. The man pig’s club came in, missing Simon, but impacting the wall, causing a slight break to form in the weapon. One of the octopus men was standing near a statue and said, “If you drop your weapons, I shall save his life”. He held up a hammer, and Simon could tell the statue was Two-Feathers. Suddenly, Trish flashed across Simon’s field of view. She had come through the door and was rushing the octopus man, who had to parry Trish’s attack with the hammer he held. The man pig swatted at Simon with his club again, wounding him, but Simon grabbed the club, ran up the wall, and dropped behind the man pig, knocking him unconscious with the flat of his sword. Simon then willed Telpurr out of the sword.

Trish cast true sword on Oblivion, then attacked the octopus man, knocking him senseless with the blade. There was a flurry of activity as Gnorl rushed into the room, grabbing Two-Feathers, with Urzul hot on his heels. She stabbed the now assembled spear into the ground. Electricity began to run up and down the length of Calamity, the ground began to shake, and there was a roaring sound in the air as the power built around the weapon. Trish cast true sword on Keller’s Razor, then rushed over to kill the octopus man Simon was engaged with. They dragged the bodies out into the corridor just as Calamity’s magic took hold.

Lightning bolts lashed out of the spear, striking all of the remaining creatures in the room. A thunderclap pealed out, stunning them, then a hole in the floor opened wide like a giant stone mouth, causing them to fall in. Lava filled the hole, and the creatures began smoking and screaming as the ground slammed shut over them. Calamity quivered in the stone, smoldering with power.

Simon and Trish began rescuing people from the mirror, using the stunned enemies they had subdued. Once they had freed as many as they could, they went back to the last room, and found that it had been a throne room. There was a mirror behind the throne that looked very much like the portal that they had gone through to get to the temple they were in. There was a desk that Colby began to search. “Hey, here’s a list of names and pass phrases,” he said.

Simon and Trish talked with the newly freed warden, while Colby and some of the others worked on freeing the prisoners of the mirrors, including the Jade King and some of his retinue. Once everyone was free of the mirror and the situation had been explained, Simon touched the mirrored archway, which began to glow. Then he, Colby and Trish stepped through, with the others following closely behind.

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